Whittaker's injury takes a big toll

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gloria Whittaker is holding out hope.

As she helped her son walk down the steep concrete hill outside the Faurot Field visitors' locker room and down to the Texas team bus, she remained optimistic that this isn't the end for Fozzy Whittaker.

"The doctor is very confident," she said with a smile. "He's doing good. His spirits are way up. His attitude is really good."

There's a chance the senior running back did suffer a season-ending knee injury on Saturday during the Longhorns' 17-5 loss to Missouri. Additional tests on Sunday will decide that.

But Whittaker is adamant he's not done. And at this point, it would be a loss the Longhorns cannot afford.

A Texas team without ailing freshman backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron knew it would need Whittaker to flourish as he has all year, and he carried the ball on three of Texas' first four plays from scrimmage.

His fourth carry of the day was his last. At the end of a 2-yard run, Whittaker's right knee buckled as he fell to the turf. He didn't need to be carted off, but he certainly wasn't coming back into the game.

"That's tough. He's your leader, your guy on offense," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "When you have the other two out anyway, we were going to lean heavily on Fozzy and Jeremy Hills today."

Hills took Whittaker's place and ran for 35 yards on 11 carries, and D.J. Monroe added 30 yards on seven. Duplicating the 440-yard-per-game machine that Texas's run game had been against Kansas and Texas Tech isn't easy without the team's top three backs.

And Missouri's stout defense did exactly what it needed to: The Tigers shut UT down on first-down carries, creating too many long second and third downs. That forced the Longhorns to do exactly what they couldn't: Throw the ball. Texas passed 36 times and ran 29, for only 76 yards.

Whittaker watched it all fall apart from the sidelines. He returned from the locker room dressed in a black sweatsuit with a black beanie on his head. He carried crutches between his arms.

Most of the time, he sat or stood behind the frustrated running backs when they returned to the bench. He still offered up words of encouragement, still tried to stay positive even if everyone could see he was hurting.

Whittaker found a seat on an equipment trunk for much of the fourth quarter. His eyes fixed on the stadium video board, and his lips fixed in a frown. He'd found so many ways to contribute in his final season as a Longhorn. Whittaker carved out a niche in the "wild" formation, running for 164 yards and five touchdowns. He picked up 10 yards on more than 40 percent of those snaps behind center.

He took two kickoffs back 100 yards this year, and he did them in back-to-back weeks in Texas' biggest games of the season. No other Longhorn ever had achieved that.

And he's a captain, one who has taken on whatever role he can get in the Texas offense. He even has become a big brother to Brown, the five-star kid who was supposed to make Whittaker irrelevant.

"Foz is my guy," fellow senior Emmanuel Acho said. "He's a fighter. He'll keep fighting, and he'll be all right."

No matter what's next for Whittaker, UT co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin is confident he'll continue to leave his mark on the team.

"That's just his makeup as a person," Harsin said. "Regardless of whether he's on the field or not, he's going to contribute someway, somehow in a large way. That doesn't even concern me one bit."

He kept his chin up as his mom walked him to the bus. Sally Brown met them and offered hugs and warm wishes. So did his teammates' parents and Texas fans.

No one saw Fozzy visibly upset. He kept his favorite Captain America backpack on, signed a few autographs, took one picture and hobbled to the bus on his crutches.

He didn't want anyone to see those crutches, Gloria Whittaker said. Whether he'll be back again this season or not, he wasn't interested in showing any weakness.

"He didn't want to take any pictures with them, either," she said, "because he said he ain't going to be on them long."

Max Olson is a freelance writer.