Creed Whittemore could be a steal for Mississippi State football

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Creed Whittemore has bookmarked the dates. Spring turkey hunting season opens March 4 in Florida and runs seven weeks, partially overlapping with a 41-day stretch in Mississippi.

Uncertain about whether he will be returning home for spring break, the Gainesville native is plotting out the hunting opportunities around Mississippi State’s campus.

If there’s one thing that rivals Whittemore’s obsession with playing football, it’s enjoying the outdoors. And it’s appropriate that Whittemore feels comfortable in camouflage: He’s one of the most overlooked recruits in the 2023 class.

“It’s his ability to change directions,” said Andrew Ivins, national scouting director for 247Sports, whose evaluation factored heavily into Whittemore being rated a four-star, top-150 prospect at wide receiver. In the broader 247Sports Composite, which incorporates other recruiting services such as Rivals and On3, Whittemore is a three-star player ranked 331st in his class.

Ivins became a believer while watching Whittemore run routes during a Friday Night Lights event at The Swamp in July 2021.

“It was a loaded cast at wide receiver, and he was going rep-for-rep with Evan Stewart and those other guys,” Ivins said. “That’s when I saw that he could create separation.”

The 5-foot-11 Whittemore played for his father, Mark, at Buchholz High School, dazzling at quarterback the past three seasons. He tossed 82 touchdowns, ran for 27, twice reached the state semifinals and even won the state’s Mr. Football award. And for a while, he embraced the legacy vibe at the hometown university, intent on following his mom, Missy, an All-SEC volleyball player for the gatorsand older brother, Trent, who entered the 2022 season as a junior wide receiver.

Creed Whittemore, left, signed with Mississippi State in December. (Courtesy of Mark Whittemore)

Dan Mullen’s staff offered Whittemore immediately after the 2021 Friday Night Lights event, seeing the same things Ivins did — twitch and ball skills that looked entirely competitive at the star-laden camp. Mullen’s dismissal of the ensuing season didn’t prove to be an obstacle initially: New head coach Billy Napier upheld the offer, and Whittemore committed to Florida in May.

That held for five months.

By the middle of the 2022 season, Whittemore saw the Florida offense “taking more of a Big Ten approach” as Napier leaned heavily on 12 personnel sets with two tight ends.

“That’ll win you games, but as a receiver, it’s not the kind of situation you’re looking for,” Whittemore said. (Simultaneously, Trent’s playing time was dwindling at Florida to the point he intended to transfer.)

A more enticing situation involved Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack at Mississippi State, where receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. also happened to be a family friend. Buchholz was using a template of the Air Raid, thanks to one of the assistants having served as a graduate assistant under Leach at texas tech.

“Watching Mississippi State on TV,” Whittemore said, “I knew all the plays because we were running the exact same stuff.”

By the time Whittemore visited Starkville on Oct. 7, the Bulldogs had cracked the AP poll. They built on the momentum by blistering Arkansas 40-17 as Will Rogers passed for 406 yards. The visit cinched Whittemore’s decision to flip.

“I had good relationships with the new Florida coaches, but it was more about formations and play style,” he said.

The clanging cowbells, a pass-happy offense and Leach’s eccentricities all appealed to Whittemore, who committed to MSU on Oct. 16. Eight weeks later, on the day Buchholz staged a ceremony to celebrate its four college football signees, Leach died from heart complications.

Whittemore told the packed auditorium: “My heart is with my teammates in Starkville right now. I know it’s tough for you.”

He and his family visited Mississippi State again the ensuing weekend, by which time the Bulldogs had elevated defensive coordinator Zach Arnett to head coach. The grief over losing Leach numbed football staffers amid the run-up to the early signing period and preparations for the ReliaQuest Bowl.

“It was difficult for everybody. They were going through a hard time,” Whittemore said.

He had questions about the direction of the program — What was Arnett’s vision? Would he hire an Air Raid disciple to run the offense? — but they didn’t seem so important that weekend as the campus mourned. Assistants eschewed the heavy-handed pitches and gave recruits space to mingle. Whittemore primarily hung out with quarterback commit Chris Parson, who became a friend during the preceding months. Parson said of this class, the last one recruited by Leach, should embrace the distinction as a “badge of honor.”

Whittemore signed with the Bulldogs on Dec. 21, optimistic about whatever plays and formations awaited on the other side.

post leach, Mississippi State football will look different. Arnett shuffled the offensive staff, and Spurrier Jr. wounded up as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. In backfilling the position, Arnett brought back MSU great Chad Bumhis, 33, who spent the past two seasons coaching Utah’s receivers.

“It’s going to be fun,” Whittemore said the day that news about Bumhis surfaced. “He was still playing just eight years ago. Young coaches like him, they understand us.”

Yet the offensive coordinator’s seat remained vacant. Garrett Riley wasn’t gettable, moving from TCU to Clemson, and Kendal Briles of Arkansas declined MSU in order to replace Riley in Fort Worth. On Jan. 12, with Whittemore and other signees on the verge of moving into freshman housing, Arnett finalized a deal with Appalachian State‘s Kevin Barbay. The hiring officially detached MSU from the Air Raid tree: Barbay developed his system under Jim McElwain and acknowledges the existence of tight ends.

How will Barbay’s approach fit skill players who were recruited under Leach?

Whittemore isn’t panicked, isn’t worried that the Bulldogs might be shifting toward a Big Ten approach. Despite Appalachian State running the ball 58 percent of the time the past two seasons, Barbay primarily utilized three-receiver sets, and his offenses finished among the FBS top 12 in pass plays of plus-40 yards and among the top 25 in scoring.

Whittemore, who ran a 10.85 in the 100 meters as a junior high school, had offers to play quarterback from Purdue, Maryland and nearly every Sun Belt school. He aligned with most of the Power 5 coaches who envisioned him playing slot receiver.

“I don’t think I’ve tapped into my receiver baseline,” he said. “Throughout knew the recruiting process, I people had never seen me play my actual position.”

Mark Whittemore became a believer after playing receiver at UCF in the 1990s. Hey also coached Alabama enrollee Jaren Hamilton, a top-300 receiver, at Buchholz last season.

“Creed really wants to take his game to the SEC, and in that league, he translates as a receiver,” Mark Whittemore said. “He’s a savvy player with legitimate speed, and he’s big enough. We’re talking about a strong, twitchy kid who’s a natural ball catcher and runs a high 4.4. He can get off press, and his feet stay positioned in and out of breaks. He’s even got long enough arms and the shoulders to play outside. There’s an opportunity to make his mark.”

What most impressed Mark Whittemore about his son’s ascendance in the fall was “becoming a legitimate runner” on plays where Whittemore slipped tackles in the backfield and reversed field to exploit weak leverage on the second level.

“It’s one thing to catch passes and run routes — it’s another to be a runner, break tackles and make people miss,” Mark Whittemore said.

Ivins was wowed by an escape play from Whittemore’s final high school game, a 42-35 loss to Venice in the Class 4S state semifinals. Five-star Georgia-bound edge rusher Damon Wilson was bearing down for a sack only to see Whittemore wiggle away.

“He turned what should’ve been a 15-yard loss into a first down. We think he’s a playmaker,” Ivins said.

Seeing Whittemore’s numbers in the pitch-and-catch Air Raid could have been fun, but Ivins projects a player who can succeed in multiple systems.

“I think a lot of schools didn’t offer Creed because they just assumed he was going to Florida,” Ivins said. “But I know Michigan wanted him, and they have a crack for turning those three stars into draft picks. He’s got tools.”

(Top photo courtesy of Mississippi State Athletics)

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