Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Dominique Whaley's path to the University of Oklahoma lacks the pedigree of recent Sooner running backs such as Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray. They were high profile recruits who came to OU with great expectations.
Whaley received little recruiting interest in high school and decided to play football at Langston (Okla.) University. In one season, he played in 10 games, totaling a modest 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Disappointed in his situation at Langston, Whaley elected to change schools.
"I didn't know where I was going to play," he said, "but I knew I'd be playing somewhere."
As far-fetched as it may have sounded, with the support of his family, friends and girlfriend, Whaley decided to try his luck walking on at Oklahoma.
His mother, Damaris Hardy, was skeptical but never doubted her son had the talent to do it.
"I was kind of nervous for him," she said. "(As a non-scholarship player) he doesn't get everything some of the other players do and basically has to pull himself in order to be able to play. I was nervous for him because I didn't know how exactly it would work out for him."
Many of his friends gave him a hard time and often criticized his decision saying he should set more realistic goals. Whaley stayed the course.
"There were a couple of friends that laughed at the thought of me trying to walk on to a program like OU," Whaley said. "I had some friends tell me I should try somewhere smaller, maybe a DI-AA school."
Whaley sat out last season under transfer rules but started to gain the attention of coaches with his work in practice and the last two spring games. He is listed as a co-starter on the depth chart along with Brennan Clay.
In Whaley's debut as a Sooner, the junior rushed 18 times for 132 yards and four touchdowns, one shy the OU school record. He also had two receptions for 12 yards in route to Oklahoma's 47-14 over Tulsa.
"We are very proud of him. I know he has the talent and the drive to do it," said his mother. "It was just a matter of other people seeing it. I'm glad he got the chance."
Whaley's drive and hard work helped get him exactly where he wanted to be, and where he felt he always belonged.
"There have been times I might have doubted my abilities," Whaley said," but I always knew I could play at this level as long as I went out there, worked hard and tried my best. I would get that chance. I always believed I could start [for Oklahoma].
Whaley's family has had a huge influence on his attitude and work ethic.
"We taught all our children, when you don't have anyone else, you always want to have your family," Whaley's mother said. "You can always count on your family to back you up."
The life of a walk on player is stressful. Money is tight and balancing football with the rest of your day can sometimes be overwhelming. Whaley appreciates the support and praise when he does well, but knows his family is there for him through the bad times also.
"There are days I would be down, maybe I had a bad practice or something, and would be thinking 'maybe this isn't for me,'" he said. "I always have somebody to pick me up when I need it."
Too little surprise, Whaley credits his success and overall drive to excel to life lessons he learned from his mother.
"We were raised on a never-give-up mentality. They always would tell me, if there is something I wanted, I could do it," Whaley said. "They were always there in the back of my mind. I would remember things they would say, words of encouragement."
Whaley's mother and stepfather are in the military, which means they move whenever given orders. His mother currently resides in New York with his stepfather, brother and two sisters. Despite the distance, the support doesn't waver.
"They are in New York and have been moving around a lot because of the military. I don't really see them that much," Whaley said. "It's kind of hard to keep in touch and see them, especially with football season, so when I do get moments to see them, it's really special to me."
His mother and stepfather caught Whaley's debut as a Sooner against Tulsa on television.
"We try to catch up with the headlines, look at the papers and see what they've said about him," said Whaley's mother. "We try to watch the games when we can on TV. We call him to let him know, even though we aren't there physically, we are there spiritually."
Jeff Whaley, Dominique's biological father, was unable to watch the season opener and his son's star turn.
"I wanted to cry; I'm so proud of him," Jeff Whaley said. "I got home and saw my son on ESPN and I wanted to cry again. He has tried so hard to get that next level; I'm just so proud of him."
Jeff Whaley lives in Tampa and will be in attendance Saturday when the top-ranked Sooners play No. 5 Florida State in Tallahassee.
"I planned this before the first game. I want to see my son play; I've never seen him play before," Jeff Whaley said. "The only thing I can do for him is support him, and that's what I'm going to do."
Saturday's game is crucial for Oklahoma's national championship hopes and Dominique Whaley appears to be a player who can help the Sooners' offense. Having his father see him play in a nationally televised game will make Saturday extra special.
"It will feel really good to know he will be there," Whaley said.