NORMAN — Dominique Whaley worked out on the sidelines Tuesday afternoon while his Oklahoma teammates began the second week of spring practice, the foundation for the 2012 season.
Last year's unconventional story of an under-the-radar running back who went from a walk-on serving sandwiches at Subway to the team's leading rusher was one of the highlights of the 2011 season. Probably the top highlight.
Running backs coach Cale Gundy doesn't see much of Whaley's rehab workouts from a broken ankle he suffered midway through last season. Gundy, though, nearly every day sees Whaley's rock-hard body and willingness to do everything possible to return 100 percent.
Reports are Whaley is ahead of schedule and should be ready for two-a-days in August.
“He looks good,” Gundy said. “I saw a little bit more stuff (Tuesday than I normally see) and he was running around a little bit faster.”
One of the hardest parts of the rehab process is tedious workouts while teammates wear pads and helmets and play football.
“He's amazing,” Gundy said. “He did a tremendous job of motivating himself. He works just as hard on individual stuff that he has to do. Compared with what everybody else is doing with weights he's doing his own stuff just as hard.”
Whaley's remarkable story can be traced to self motivation when it appeared his career was over two years ago.
A standout running back his sophomore season on an Army base in Germany, Whaley was the backup behind current OU teammate Javon Harris for two years at Lawton MacArthur. He also was a backup as a freshman at Langston after he fell through the cracks, failing to attend summer camps.
After returning to his family's home in Texas for a year, Whaley walked on at OU. In Norman, he put on 20 pounds and got bigger, stronger, faster. He was the leading rusher in the spring game a year ago and burst onto the scene by becoming the top running back on a team ranked preseason No. 1.
In his debut, a win over Tulsa, Whaley rushed for 131 yards and four touchdowns on 18 carries. It wasn't a coaching mind game that Whaley was listed as co-starter coming out of two-a-days.
Averaging 5.5 yards a carry, Whaley pounded out yards. Besides showcasing his athleticism — the highlight a 64-yard touchdown run against Texas — he showed why coaches trusted him. A fierce competitor, Whaley was known for punishing blocks as much as eye-popping stats.
The oldest of six kids in a military family, Whaley rushed for 627 yards, the most ever by an OU walk-on. Essentially in seven games. He ran for nine touchdowns. His season high was a 165-yard game against Kansas two weeks before the injury.
“It would be nice to have that every-down back,” said quarterback Landry Jones. “He and Brennan (Clay) would be that kind of back that can play every down. It would be nice to have two guys if one gets gassed or has a long run we can bring the other one in.”
Reports have been good since Whaley suffered the injury more than four months ago. He's now on scholarship.
The next hurdle, the big test, will be two-a-days in August.
“I see him almost every day,” Jones said. “To me he appears to be ahead of schedule. He's always in the training room working on it, getting his flexibility and power back. He was running the other day on the practice field. I didn't see him run but he told me it felt pretty good, pretty strong.”
Coaches and teammates say Whaley, 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, has remained upbeat.
“He's probably a little anxious,” Gundy said. “The toughest part is having that boot on for so long and then having to go through your winter workouts.”
No one could blame Whaley for being anxious. His long awaited opportunity was interrupted making a textbook block at K-State.
“It's a time deal,” Gundy said. “He looks good. He's in all the meetings. You can't get him to stay away from (the athletic facilities). ... We've got plenty of time. We're not in a hurry.”