The Hannibal football team continues to take pride in a strong run game, but the Pirates hope to make opponents pay by airing it out in 2018.
Will Whitaker was warned of the limited role he may have as a wide receiver on the Hannibal football team.
Hall of Fame head coach Mark St. Clair has displayed a penchant for emphasizing the run game, and it's worked. The Pirates have churned out consistent winning seasons over the past two decades.
“People always told me, 'Hannibal is not going to throw the ball,'” said Whitaker, who set the school record with 755 yards receiving last season. “We throw it now, so we kind of changed it up a little bit. I hope we can keep mixing stuff in there so we're not predictable.”
Quarterback Gabe Worthington and Whitaker etched their names in program history last year as juniors, stretching the field to add another dimension to Hannibal's option attack.
Worthington threw for 17 touchdowns, the most in program history.
Whitaker was his favorite target.
“I feel confident that we can score on any pass play throwing the ball up to him,” Worthington said. “Will is so big and fast and strong, athletically he's so much better than everyone else, in my opinion. He's so gifted.”
Hannibal is hosting 7-on-7 scrimmages at Porter Stadium on Mondays in June to prepare for the upcoming season.
The practices give Worthington and his core of receivers the opportunity to get on the same page against live competition.
“If we can throw the ball with efficiency, that makes everything better,” St. Clair said. “Obviously people try to put a lot of men in the box to stop our run and option game. But our goal if they do that is to make them pay for it.”
Whitaker has been slowed by an ankle injury but expects to fully recover in time for the regular season.
Hannibal opens the 2018 slate on Aug. 24 with a home game against Helias Catholic.
“If you work hard here in the summer, it's going to pay off in the end,” Whitaker said of the offseason training. “If you're bigger, faster and stronger than everybody else, then it's going to show on the football field.”
Worthington and Whitaker also play alongside each other on the left side of the infield for the Hannibal baseball team, which set a team record with 16 wins this past season.
Now the rising seniors hope to help the football squad build upon last fall's 6-5 record.
“We're shooting for the stars, a state championship, obviously,” Worthington said of the team goal. “Conference and districts are things we feel like we should and we need to be able to do, but we're not holding ourselves to any limit.”
Worthington started 11 games as signal caller last year while completing 50 percent of his passes for 1,386 passing yards.
He added 465 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
“Gabe is really confident in what he can do,” Whitaker said of his teammate. “When somebody gets onto him, that motivates him even more and he doesn't even get down on himself.”
Whitaker averaged 68.6 receiving yards per game last season while reeling in 10 of Worthington's 17 touchdown passes.
“It definitely makes my job a lot easier when you have a talent like that,” Worthington said of Whitaker.