Jason Whittle is just a bit smaller than Mount Rushmore and looks indestructible, especially when he is surrounded by a group of adoring Grain Valley Middle School students.

Jason Whittle is just a bit smaller than Mount Rushmore and looks indestructible, especially when he is surrounded by a group of adoring Grain Valley Middle School students.
But the 11-year NFL veteran’s post-high school career was nearly cut short by an errant overhand on the tennis court, struck by his former coach, Randy Draper.
It happened 16 years ago at Camdenton High School, where Whittle was a two-time all-state defensive lineman and a stellar basketball and tennis player.
The tall tale – which I’m sure gets bigger and better as the years advance – includes Whittle rushing to the net his senior year in a practice match with his doubles partner.
On the other side of the net was Draper, then the Camdenton High School coach, and a member of the high school team.
“I was at the net and Coach Draper cut loose with an overhand shot that hit me right there,” Whittle said, pointing to an area on his chest, just below his Adam’s apple.
“I was wearing a gold chain and the ball hit that chain and broke it. I had the indention of that ball, and my chain, on my chest for a month. When he first hit me, I thought I was dead.”
So did his coach.
“We all laughed about it after found out he was alive,” Draper said, cackling. “I’m just thankful it was big ol’ Jay and not some skinny little kid – because it might have killed him.”
Suddenly, Whittle had a whole new appreciation for tennis.
And decided to stick with a sport like football, where the violence was toned down and he didn’t have to worry about any crazy coaches with tennis rackets in their hands.
Whittle went on to play Division I-AA football at then Southwest Missouri State. He caught the eye of the New York Giants and has played center, long snapper and guard for more than a decade. He has also played in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and, for the past two years, he has been a member of the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s all pretty remarkable,” said Whittle, who was a member of the Giants during the attack on the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
“A day none of us will ever forget,” he said, shaking his head. “But you know what? That attack made everyone proud to be an American. The attitude of New Yorkers changed – at least for a while. They quit honking their horns so much at stoplights, they were friendlier and everyone seemed to get along.”
The first game the Giants played following the attack was at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.
“That game was amazing,” Whittle said. “The Chiefs had the big flag on the field before the game and honored our military. It was pretty special to be a part of that game.”
On that solitary Sunday, even the rabid Chiefs fans wearing their crimson and gold colors, were New Yorkers.
“Yeah, we didn’t hear any boos that day,” Whittle said.
Draper invited Whittle to participate in a pre- MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) Testing assembly, so he could tell the students how a youngster from rural Missouri could make it to the NFL.
During his speech, more then 500 squirming boys and girls sat in rapt attention.
So did assistant principal Jeff Scalfaro, a native New Yorker who still holds season tickets to the Buffalo Bills.
“I told Coach Draper his boy was even taking some snaps at fullback last season,” Scalfaro said. “To have a Buffalo Bill here in our gym, talking to our students, is just awesome.”
So was Whittle’s presentation.
When he asked how many of the students thought that NFL players only work on Sundays during the season, countless hands flew up into the air.
He chuckled and said, “We work about 55 to 70 hours a week.”
A buzz went through the bleachers.
“We work out, go to team meetings, watch film, practice and go through walk-throughs the day before a game,” he said. “We work hard before a game, so we are ready to play that game.
“And that’s what you have to do before you start your MAP Testing. You have to work hard and be ready.”
Heads nodded in agreement.
Two young men sitting on the floor high-fived each other.
And the teachers all sported ear-to-ear grins and were high-fiving each other in their minds.
Whittle told the kids that he never scored a touchdown in the NFL because he was an offensive lineman.
But he scored big time Friday afternoon, and impacted lives in much the way Draper did back at Camdenton High School – and continues to do so today at the middle school and high school, where he still coaches tennis.