STEENS — Basketball always has had a special place in Kimarri Whitfield’s heart.
The Columbus Christian Academy senior loves the sport so much that at one time he strongly considered giving up other sports to focus on basketball.
But Greg Watkins wanted to make sure Whitfield had all of the information he needed, so he sat down and talked to the football/basketball/track standout and tried to convince him that playing multiple sports would help him as well as increase his chances of getting noticed by college coaches.
“I told him you need to have the options when you graduate to play the sport you want to play,” said Watkins, who coaches the school’s football and boys basketball teams. “You don’t want to come out your senior year and all of a sudden not go somewhere for basketball and have thrown football away.”
The conversation still didn’t convince Whitfield football ultimately would be the route to take, but it showed him it was better to continue to play multiple sports.
Whitfield’s decision to keep playing football proved to be a wise one Tuesday when he signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at Mississippi College, a Division II school in Clinton.
“I told him he could be the next Johnthan Banks,” said Watkins, referring to the former East Webster High School and Mississippi State product who was a second-round NFL draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. Banks played eight games with the NFL’s Chicago Bears last season. “You could be that kind of cornerback. I encouraged him to play football. He had a great junior year.”
Whitfield played cornerback, safety, wide receiver, and several other positions for the Columbus Christian football team. He also was a standout on the boys basketball team, which won a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AA State title last season. But as much as Whitfield admits he loves basketball, he felt football offered him the best chance at the next level.
“I just looked at my size and my strength,” Whitfield said. “If I wanted to be a basketball player, I had to be a point guard. In football, I had several choices, so I went with football.”
Whitfield said he weighed his options for about a year and a half before ultimately picking football. He said the talk with Watkins and the advice he received from scouts, who said the more student-athletes do helps their “marketability,” made an impression on him.
Watkins agrees because Whitfield, who is 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, has plenty of room to mature and to get stronger. Whitfield said he has been in the weight room since the end of the 2016 football season. He feels the work he is putting in is preparing him for what he knows will be a big step later this year.
“We had it planned out,” Whitfield said. “The recruiting process went on for about a month or so. They really wanted me and everybody was nice. They even said I can have my number (12).”
Watkins said Whitfield showed this season he had “football in his heart.” He believes Whitfield’s junior season helped him believe he could play the sport in college. Watkins recalled the conversation about playing multiple sports to Whitfield on Tuesday and said the time Whitfield invested and his work ethic helped make the decision the right one.
“There was no certainty when we talked,” Watkins said. “He continued to work in the weight room. When football season came around, I guess that is when he decided he was going to try this. I told him basketball may be your thing, but at a small school it does good to play all sports because it helps you stay in shape and it gets you seen.”
Watkins said Whitfield had several other options, including the junior college route, but he feels Mississippi College is a good fit because it will provide continuity and a place where he will be able to get a great education.
Whitfield said he is looking forward to pushing himself to realize his potential.
“It is going to be a whole lot faster than what I am used to, so I am going to have to adjust to that first,” Whitfield said. “I am ready for it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.