This week, all of The562’s coverage is sponsored by Long Beach Gives. Visit LongBeachGives.org to find your cause and support local nonprofits! Donations will be accepted through Sept. 21.
The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
True team captains aren’t chosen during the good times, they’re forged in the bad times.
Wilson’s Curtis Whiten has emerged as the latter.
The Bruins have stumbled out the gate this season, suffering blowout losses against Redondo Union, Dana Hills and Millikan.
When asked how his team was able to avoid the frustration of more losses, Whiten was candid in his response.
“We actually didn’t stop ourselves from being frustrated,” he said. “We had people quit or stop coming to practice (after the losses) because they stopped believing in what we’re trying to build. We’re focused on stopping that by building a better culture.”
The 6-foot 250-pound Whiten took it upon himself to lead by example earlier this month when he was a terror on the defensive line against California. In that win, he had one of his five tackles for loss this season. He also has five quarterback hurries, two sacks and a fumble recovery this year.
Wilson coach Scott Meyer called the three-year varsity starter his best defensive lineman and a great kid.
“He’s a joy to coach, and it’s his attitude,” Meyer said. “He’s really quick, really strong and he plays with a lot of energy… He has a big personality. A great smile. When he’s out there playing football it kind of gets everybody energized to play, or at least tries to play, with the energy that he has.”
Whiten said he’s wanted to be a leader for as long as he can remember.
“I want to lead by example. I believe that we can go far so I will do my best to go far. If I see someone slouching or just not doing what we need to do, I remind them about where we came from. We were just 1-9 two seasons ago. And then 4-6 last year. Our mindset everyday is to have 14 games. That hasn’t been promised to us in over three years.”
That leadership doesn’t just stop on the football field.
“I want to be a leader on campus too, if I see someone who needs help, I’ll be there for them,” Whiten said. “I love Wilson. I’ve had great connections with people, and the Young Black Scholars program here is a big reason. I love every Bruin and treat everyone the same.”
Whiten’s natural competitiveness comes from growing up in Long Beach as a middle child in a family of eight children. He stayed active in multiple sports while attending Horace Mann Elementary and Jefferson Middle, however, he had only played flag football when he arrived at Wilson as a freshman.
“It took time and hard work and practice,” Whiten said of getting used to tackle football. “But I’ve always been strong with a low center of gravity, so the defensive line worked for me, but I didn’t know much. (Wilson offensive lineman and team captain) Hunter Houston helped me so much. Going against him every day, and at first I was like, ‘Man, I suck. I want to get better.’ Hunter taught me how to get better and now I’m going against him and beating him. So that’s like a big accomplishment to see someone who taught me how to play now taking lessons from me.”
Whiten doesn’t want to forget how much he struggled and how hard he worked to move past that, on and off the football field. He wants to make sure his teammates feel the same way about the fact that Wilson hasn’t reached the playoffs since he’s been on the team.
“That’s not avoidable, that’s our past, and that’s one of the things we can’t forget,” Whiten said. “We have to remind ourselves that we don’t ever want to go that low, and just to keep going up. We have to hold each other accountable.”
“It’s his attitude,” Meyer added about Whiten’s leadership qualities. “We’ve reminded the team that there’s a lot of football left, and he’s playing like it.”
Whiten also said he’s extra motivated by family, especially one of his younger brothers who is currently incarcerated.
“He told me to keep my head up,” Whiten said. “He’s the reason why I do everything I do. I’m trying to better myself for him.”
If the Bruins are going to turn it around this season, they need to think more like Whiten.