Whiteheads double trouble for HV opponents

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com
Back in the mid '80s, Happy Valley had two sets of twins on their football team, with Tony and Robby Garland at skill positions, and Brian and Mike Miller on the line. That tradition is continued in 2003 by Lance and Brandon Whitehead, the sons of Grady and Gail Whitehead.
While all athletes form a bond with their teammates, for siblings -- particularly twins -- it's closer than most will ever know.
"If he makes a real good play on the field, it makes me feel real good," said Lance, whose jersey number is 2. "The same for me, if I make a good play, he's there with me. It's just fun out there playing a game with your brother."
Brandon added: "Starting out playing football together since we were in elementary, we've always liked it. We played other sports also, but never got into them as much we did football. Seeing him succeed makes me work that much harder."
Warrior head coach Stan Ogg has been involved with each of the aforementioned twins, and can see the bond they share.
"I see a closeness of brothers in general," said Ogg. "They do look out for each other. They like to pick on each other, too. The thing on this team I see a lot of players that are like brothers. They really care about each other and pick each other up when they are down."
The playing careers of the Whitehead brothers haven't all been fun and games. Lance missed most of last season after suffering a back injury. Likewise, Brandon skipped the two most recent games after suffering a concussion against Cumberland Gap.
Since both work at McDonald's in Hampton, it was particularly tough for Brandon to be on the sidelines for the first game he missed, against Hampton.
"Oh man, it was horrible," said Brandon, who wears No. 7. "It's tough to sit out any game. This is what I love to do, to play football. We've been doing it since we were real little. It killed me to sit out both the Hampton and South Greene games. I can't wait to play Chuckey-Doak in this last regular season game.
"I didn't know I was hurt that bad. I took a pretty hard hit and blacked out for a minute. I didn't know it would be that bad with my neck. I really wanted to play the South Greene game, but they didn't release me."
Of the two, Brandon relies more on speed and has become a solid pass cover guy for the Warriors. One of the more spectacular plays this season was an interception in the team's only loss, which came against Gatlinburg-Pittman.
Lance, despite a stature of 5-5, 146 pounds, has been asked to play roles usually reserved for bigger players. He is the starting fullback on offense and lines up as defensive end on the other side of the ball.
"I had played strong safety since my freshman year," said Lance. "Last year, I got hurt and (Michael) Everhardt got a lot of time at strong safety. The coaches decided to move me over to the end. I picked up on all the little things I had to remember, but physically it was a pretty big adjustment.
"I think I have it down pretty good right now. It hasn't bothered me going against bigger guys. I think I have it in my heart to do well. The weight room helped me out a lot and Chris Dove helped me out a lot learning the position."
Their coach says that both brothers are similar in their approach to the game.
"Their demeanor is very similar," said Ogg. "They both concentrate on the mechanics. They try very hard to be the best that they can. That's a credit to their parents that they have turned out to be fine young men. They aren't blessed with 6-2, 240 pound bodies, but they get the most out of what they have.
"Brandon is such a hard hitter and Lance has done everything we've asked of him at the end position. When he was out with the back injury last year, he stayed in the weight room."
Lance has become a valuable asset on the offense as well. He not only helps to open holes for tailback Tim Whaley, but has shown flashes of quickness. Unfortunately, his best run of the season, a twisting, spinning 25-yard touchdown run against Cumberland Gap, was flagged for a holding penalty.
"I like getting the long runs, but as long as I can open the holes for Tim and (Michael) Hollifield and them, it makes it better for me," said Lance. "I thought I had a touchdown in that Cumberland Gap, but it was called back. What I'm really concerned the most about, is that Tim can get through that hole better and that we can win."
Winning has come frequently this senior season, with HV sporting a 8-1 record and No. 7 ranking in the state going into the final regular season game against Chuckey-Doak.
Among a core group of players who spent the offseason in a conditioning program conducted by coach Alex Campbell, the brothers credit the physical success of this Warrior team to that program. From a mental and emotional standpoint, they proclaim that everyone from the freshmen to the seniors feels like they are a part of one big family.
"They've become good leaders for the team," said Ogg about the boys. "They aren't out there yelling and all, but they lead by example. I see so many good qualities out of them that I think other people on the team see. They've done good things for this program."
After school, the two have different goals. Brandon is looking at military service as an option and would like to enroll in the Army ROTC program over at East Tennessee State. Lance wants to remain in the civilian world, hoping to become a math teacher and a football coach one day.
There is one moment that stands out for them in what has been a terrific season for the Tribe. The brothers look back to a play which they combined to make a huge stop, that helped clinch one of the great wins in school history.
"I have to look back to when he and I stopped that reverse at Elizabethton," said Lance. "That has to be the favorite moment."