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Today is December 3, 2021

Larry Whigham: from Hattiesburg to the NFL

By Dale McKee

Larry Whigham: from Hattiesburg to the NFL

Hattiesburg High School head football coach Willie Coats felt sorry for this wormy, 110-pound 10th grader named Larry Whigham back in 1987. Whigham had just broken his collarbone for the eighth time and asked his coach if he would let him hang around the team. “I was afraid I might get in trouble, so I asked, and coach let me manage,” said Whigham. Two years later, he came back for his senior season at 165 pounds and would become a starter at defensive end. Whigham’s final high school season was rewarding, as he and his teammates would make it to the 1989 state championship game before falling to West Point.

Some might think with 10 collarbone football injuries over the years that Whigham might want to end his football career on a high note and be satisfied. Whigham had other plans. Coats worked it out for Whigham to attend a tryout at Pearl River Junior College, and the Wildcats signed him. History repeated itself for Whigham as he broke his collarbone in the first scrimmage and missed yet another football season. Even though he was injured, Whigham continued to work to get back onto the field. The next August, he reported to fall practice at 6 feet 2 inches tall, 205 pounds. It turned out that Whigham was trying to impress the new Wildcat coach, who was, who else, but Willie Coats. Coats moved Whigham to the defensive secondary, and Whigham’s football playing career blossomed overnight. During his final season at Pearl River, he intercepted five passes and was selected to play in the Mississippi Junior College All-Star game.

Whigham eventually signed with Northeast Louisiana after the All-Star game. “They were a Top 10 team in Division 1-AA and going to the playoffs every year. So, I thought it was the best landing place for me,” said Whigham. His junior year he was a reserve safety, but his senior year he started at cornerback for the Warhawks. “I made the rounds in the college all-star games after my senior year. I was the only person to play in three all-star games that season. I took part in the Blue-Gray game, East-West Shrine game, and Hula Bowl and also was invited to the NFL Combine.”

The story continued for Whigham as Seattle selected him in the fourth round with the 110th pick in the 1994 draft, but the Seahawks cut him after two games. The next call came two weeks later from New England. He made his name as an elite special teams player with the Patriots for seven seasons, and in 1996, his peers named him the AFC Special Teams Player of the Year.

His NFL highlights included playing in the 1997 Super Bowl against Green Bay and making the Pro Bowl in both the AFC and NFC. A regular-season highlight occurred when he picked off two Dan Marino passes in a game, one for a score. Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe had Marino sign the touchdown ball and presented it to Whigham. Whigham also intercepted Marino in another regular-season game.

The most special highlight of his New England years was in the 1997 AFC Championship Game when he tackled Jacksonville punter Brian Barker on his own four-yard line, which resulted in a Patriots touchdown. “That was the loudest crowd noise that I think I ever heard,” said Whigham. After seven years in New England, he played his final two years with the Chicago Bears.

Whigham has been inducted into the Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame and also the Pearl River Hall of Fame. Today he is a businessman, living in Houston, Texas with his wife and four children.

 

Dale McKee is a Waynesboro native who has been writing sports in Mississippi since 1973. He is a member of Dixie Electric. Contact him at ddmckee18@yahoo.com.

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