Scoggins: U's Wilhite is cure for cynicism about college sports

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2011 - 10:00 AM

Fans of college sports dismayed by scandals should meet the U's D.L. Wilhite, who embraces studying, volunteer work and football with equal fervor.

Gophers junior defensive end D.L. Wilhite has more than football in his future. He’s taking Arabic, planning to study in Egypt in 2013 and hopes to one day become a college professor with a Ph.D in history.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

A search of this paper's archives reveals dozens of stories chronicling the Gophers' poor track record in graduation rates, particularly among black student-athletes.

The headlines rarely seem to change, only the dates. These are important issues in a complex debate that has no cut-and-dried answers. But that discussion is for another day. Today is for something else.

Too often we become so focused on one part of the equation that we forget about the other side, the success stories. We don't notice D.L. Wilhite pass right in front of us, a young man quietly determined to squeeze every ounce out of his opportunity.

Wilhite is a junior defensive end for the Gophers football team. He's also a double major who dreams of becoming a college professor, plans to do his postgraduate studies in Egypt and is nominated for a national award based on his involvement in community service projects.

Wilhite was good enough to start eight games as a sophomore, but he knows the odds of him becoming a professional football player are minuscule, so he isn't going to squander a free education and the platform he's afforded as a college athlete.

"I can go out and blow my knee out the first day of camp and be done for the rest of my career," he said recently. "But you can never take away the stuff I've learned. I'm just trying to make sure I'm setting myself up for success the rest of my life."

That outlook is a product of his humble upbringing in Lexington, Ky., as the youngest of three kids in a family that was short on money but rich in love. His mother works at a hospital, his father is an associate pastor at a Baptist church.

Their finances always were tight, so the Wilhites never once went on a family vacation. Anything Pam and Donald had, they invested in their kids. D.L. didn't take his first airplane flight until he came to Minnesota for his recruiting visit as a high school senior.

"We didn't put a lot of time and effort into having worldly things," Donald said. "We spent all of our resources to make sure our kids grew up to be good citizens."

Donald had certain rules for his son. No dreadlocks, tattoos, earrings or baggy pants. Answer with "yes sir" and "no sir." Carry yourself in a dignified manner.

"His father instilled him as a child that he's a prince and that he is somebody," Pam said. "He taught him at an early age that he's a man."

They cut the cord on Father's Day 2008, when Donald dropped his son off on campus. D.L. was 17 and a long way from his Kentucky home. He wasn't the first in his family to attend college, but no one in his immediate family attended long enough to earn a degree.

Wilhite didn't allow that set of circumstances to become a crutch, though. He thrived in the classroom -- he has a cumulative 3.1 grade-point average -- and volunteered in his adoptive community in hospitals, schools and north Minneapolis after the May 22 tornado hit.

He fell in love with history in school, particularly Middle Eastern studies. He added a global studies curriculum so that he can pursue a double major with the hope of earning his Ph.D in history. He's taking an Arabic class this semester and plans to study in Cairo in the spring of 2013.

This summer, Wilhite applied for and was accepted to the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program, a federal TRIO initiative that honors McNair, the former astronaut who died in the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

The program's goal is to help undergraduates prepare for doctoral studies through research projects. Wilhite qualified for the program by meeting two of three criteria: low income and underrepresented ethnic group.

Wilhite, with the help of faculty mentor Michael Goldman, analyzed the 2011 Egyptian revolution and what role financial institutions played in the country's unrest. Wilhite spent up to 30 hours each week researching and studying documents for his presentation, which he called "Global City Making in Cairo: The Roots and Routes of a New Urban Politics."

He presented his research during a program at Coffman Memorial Union earlier this month. As people milled about the ballroom, Wilhite stood in front of a giant poster board that outlined his research and explained his project to anyone who stopped and inquired.

One such visitor was Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, who asked Wilhite to discuss his findings with him, director of football operations Dan O'Brien and myself.

Without hesitation, Wilhite talked authoritatively about Egypt's politics, the influence of international finance institutions on policies and something called structural adjustment.

After he was finished, Kill praised Wilhite for a job well done and for embodying the true meaning of the term student- athlete.

"I'm proud of you," Kill said, putting his arm around Wilhite's shoulders.

At that moment, all the cynicism and scandal that has engulfed college athletics in recent months got pushed to the background. You're reminded that success stories such as D.L. Wilhite also exist. We shouldn't lose sight of that.

Chip Scoggins ascoggins@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Denver 28 4th Qtr 1:14
Cincinnati 37
Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Carolina 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Detroit 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Denver 82 FINAL
Charlotte 110
Portland 95 FINAL
Houston 110
Utah 97 FINAL
Memphis 91
Toronto 120 FINAL
Chicago 129
Atlanta 105 FINAL
Dallas 102
LA Clippers 118 FINAL
San Antonio 125
Sacramento 50 3rd Qtr
Golden State 64
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Washington 2
Nashville 5 FINAL
Columbus 1
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL(SO)
Florida 4
Arizona 1 3rd Prd
Vancouver 5
San Jose 0 3rd Prd
Anaheim 1
Calgary 0 2nd Prd 12:55
Los Angeles 3
Ark-Little Rock 64 FINAL
Bradley 54
Brown 67 FINAL
Central Conn St 55
Stetson 59 FINAL
Florida State 63
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
Northwestern 63
Ohio 49 FINAL
George Washington 77
Southern Utah 61 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 70
Elon 67 FINAL
Kennesaw St 65
Dartmouth 49 FINAL
Penn State 69
Green Bay 70 FINAL
UC Irvine 72
DePaul 68 FINAL
Colorado 82
Lewis & Clark 49 FINAL
Portland 71
SC State 59 FINAL
Abilene Christian 65
Manhattan 71 FINAL
Fordham 57
Truett-McConnell 57 FINAL
Ga Southern 90
Citadel 56 FINAL
Michigan State 82
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Ohio State 93
Gardner-Webb 89 FINAL
Purdue 84
Idaho 68 FINAL
Northern Ky 81
Fairfield 66 FINAL
Albany 77
North Dakota St 61 FINAL
Alcorn State 50
UT Martin 37 FINAL
Butler 64
SE Louisiana 65 FINAL
UCF 70
Oakland 60 FINAL
Clemson 70
Florida A&M 57 FINAL
East Carolina 75
Eastern Ky 66 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 69
IUPU-Ft Wayne 43 FINAL
Illinois State 68
Norfolk State 74 FINAL
James Madison 71
Binghamton 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 69
Towson 56 FINAL
Navy 61
Long Island 73 FINAL
New Hampshire 72
Northern Ill 66 FINAL
Notre Dame 91
William & Mary 62 FINAL
Old Dominion 69
Liberty 47 FINAL
Princeton 65
Delaware 81 FINAL
Robert Morris 84
MD-Eastern Shore 82 FINAL
St Bonaventure 80
Colgate 43 FINAL
Syracuse 78
Kansas 52 FINAL
Temple 77
Mercer 54 FINAL
Tennessee 64
East Tenn St 60 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 84
Va Military 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Bucknell 53 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
Alabama A&M 62 FINAL
Western Mich 71
New Orleans 59 FINAL
Indiana 79
Columbia 65 FINAL
Connecticut 80
Long Beach State 49 FINAL
St Johns 66
Wofford 44 FINAL
West Virginia 77
Southern U 66 FINAL
Baylor 70
UAB 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 83
Char Southern 54 FINAL
Colorado State 75
North Florida 70 FINAL
Iowa 80
NC Central 67 FINAL
Jackson State 64
Rice 72 FINAL
Lamar 79
Central Mich 89 FINAL
McNeese State 56
Coppin State 56 FINAL
Michigan 72
Furman 76 FINAL
Minnesota 86
SE Missouri St 51 FINAL
Ole Miss 82
Weber State 51 FINAL
Oklahoma 85
Grambling St 39 FINAL
TCU 80
Loyola-Chicago 62 FINAL
Texas Tech 44
Incarnate Word 47 FINAL
Tulsa 76
Penn 50 FINAL
Vanderbilt 79
Chicago State 38 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 63
Simpson 62 FINAL
Drake 84
Tenn Tech 81 FINAL
UMKC 60
Murray State 83 FINAL
Southern Ill 71
Oral Roberts 45 FINAL
Missouri State 52
Jacksonville St 65 FINAL
Air Force 66
Milwaukee 54 FINAL
Arkansas 84
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
California 56
Coll of Charleston 47 FINAL
LSU 71
North Dakota 54 FINAL
Marquette 67
Northern New Mexico 39 FINAL
New Mexico St 78
UC Santa Barbara 78 FINAL
Oregon 82
Miami-Florida 62 FINAL
Providence 76
Northeastern 68 FINAL
St Marys-CA 72
Kent State 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
UC Davis 73 FINAL
Northern Colorado 63
Lewis-Clark State 81 FINAL
Eastern Wash 87
Walla Walla 52 FINAL
Portland State 94
TX A&M-CC 56 2nd Half 5:12
Cal State Fullerton 65
Marshall 44 2nd Half 6:26
Nevada 73
Boise State 41 2nd Half 17:00
Houston 25
UC Riverside 10 Delayed 6:07
San Diego St 21
Tulane 26 1st Half 3:11
Washington 19
Loyola Marymount 16 1st Half 5:02
Wichita State 27
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Hawaii
BYU 48 FINAL
Memphis 55
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Holy Cross 78
Temple 59 FINAL
Villanova 64
Georgia Southern 68 FINAL
Southern U 52
Xavier 60 FINAL
Kennesaw St 61
Eastern Michigan 52 FINAL
Michigan 81
Brescia 56 FINAL
Marshall 127
(21) West Virginia 54 FINAL
Ohio State 96
UMBC 87 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 78
Cornell 79 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 61
St Bonaventure 70 FINAL
Georgetown 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Northeastern 62
Eastern Washington 67 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 63 FINAL
Texas Southern 69
Butler 72 FINAL
Illinois State 60
UC Davis 59 FINAL
(16) Stanford 71
Washington St 87 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 60
Sacramento St 94 FINAL
San Jose St 97
SIU-Edwardsville 74 FINAL
UMKC 58
Oakland 92 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 84
Belmont 43 FINAL
(14) Georgia 62
George Mason 83 FINAL
Longwood 61
Kansas 81 FINAL
Creighton 84
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Kansas State 68
UT Martin 65 FINAL
Missouri 74
Hampton 67 FINAL
DePaul 86
Florida State 65 FINAL
Tulane 54
Murray State 44 FINAL
Illinois 64
Fla Gulf Coast 74 FINAL
Arkansas State 68
BYU 62 FINAL
Utah State 58
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close