ORCHARD PARK — Nick Whitfield casually completed passes to teammates during Section VI football’s media day Tuesday at Highmark Stadium.
Come Saturday, Fredonia’s senior quarterback hopes to be completing passes of much more importance at the home of the Buffalo Bills
Whitfield was in the stands in 2013 when a high-powered Fredonia team was stopped by Cleveland Hill with a Class C championship on the line at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“When I was in middle school, Fredonia made it here,” Whitfield said. “I came to the game and I thought, ‘Wow, I could have this same opportunity.’”
The Hillbillies haven’t been back since.
The Fredonia program’s progression has corresponded with the rise of its senior quarterback, who has received invitations to summer camps at Towson, the University at Buffalo and Rutgers, and even visited Pittsburgh of the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Panthers’ Oct. 23 game against Clemson.
As a sophomore, Whitfield picked up his first varsity win against Gowanda/Pine Valley, but the Hillbillies finished the season 4-4 and their quarterback threw just seven touchdowns against eight interceptions.
“My sophomore year, we didn’t even make the playoffs,” Whitfield said. “From there, I realized I really had to get in the film room and the weight room if I wanted to make things happen. It wasn’t just going to be handed to me.”
During a condensed spring season his junior year, coming off a wrist injury suffered during basketball season, Whitfield and the Hillbillies went 3-2, but suffered big losses to Southwesern and Clymer/Sherman/Panama. For his part, Whitfield threw for five touchdowns and ran for another three, but knew he and the Hillbillies had to get better his senior year.
The team rededicated itself in the offseason and Whitfield continued his work with Jim Kubiak of the Western New York Quarterback Academy.
Fredonia’s wide receivers continued their work with former Buffalo State College wide receivers coach Alejandro Overton.
“Our coaches don’t know everything,” Whitfield said. “We reach out to the best in the area and we ask them what works.”
The results have been evident this fall.
Fredonia enters Saturday’s noon matchup with defending sectional champion Medina (10-0) with an unblemished 10-0 record after rolling through a perfect 6-0 Class C South schedule.
Whitfield has shined.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander has completed 117 of 182 attempts for 1,694 yards and 16 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
“He’s reading better. His pre-reads before snap are huge,” Fredonia head coach Greg Sherlock said Tuesday. “Even from the spring until now, it’s pretty amazing what he sees. He gets rid of the ball quicker if it’s there.
“He’s fast, he’s a 4.6 runner. He’s so athletic,” Sherlock added. “You can do all you can to keep him in the pocket, but he’s got a very strong arm and he reads. If a guy is open, nine times out of 10, he’s going to get it there.”
Ethan Fry has 35 catches for 488 yards and eight touchdowns while Davon McCall has 31 catches for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Whitfield has completed at least nine passes to four other receivers as well.
“To have the four receivers that we do, we can go five- or six-deep. They all can catch and they all run very good routes,” Sherlock said. “Coach Overton, we take them up to Buffalo, and they’ve learned a lot, a lot more than what we knew in the past about route running. It goes hand in hand with Nick’s progression.”
On the ground, the dual-threat signal caller has run for 631 yards and 12 scores.
“As coaches, there were a lot of things we didn’t see. … The person most responsible is Jim Kubiak. … He sits down with us and we have learned a lot through him,” Sherlock said. “We’ve taken him a lot more seriously.
While some seniors already have their college decisions made at this point — a few years back Southwestern’s Cole Snyder made a verbal commitment to Rutgers during the summer before his senior year, signed with the Scarlet Knights in December and was on campus for the spring semester — Whitfield is OK waiting.
For now, his focus is solely on the Hillbillies.
“Right now that’s not really my top priority,” Whitfield said. “Right now, it’s just winning and making sure I go out with a bang my senior season.”