Charlie Whitehurst’s path to becoming a Seahawk began on a nasty early-spring afternoon at Clemson in 2005.
That’s when John Schneider first saw Whitehurst – and saw something that led him to believe the record-setting quarterback had a future in the NFL. Schneider, the Seahawks’ first-year general manager, was then working for the Green Bay Packers and Whitehurst, a senior-to-be, had been recruited to throw passes to Clemson wide receiver Airese Currie during a workout for NFL scouts.
“I was still in Green Bay, so we were looking for guys who could play in (bad) weather,” Schneider said this week after a practice at Bing Training Camp. “It was a cold, nasty day – like a wet snow.
“Charlie was out there in a T-shirt just flinging it. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He was really impressive.”
Whitehurst never made it back to Green Bay, as the San Diego Chargers selected him in the third round of the 2006 draft.
Back to Green Bay? That’s right. Whitehurst was born there – in 1982 – when his father, David, was a quarterback for the Packers.
So this Whitehurst-Schneider connection plays into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Packers at Qwest Field. Schneider’s roots, however, are much deeper. A native of De Pere, Wis., Schneider began his NFL career in 1992 as a summer intern under then-GM Ron Wolf. He later worked as a pro personnel assistant (1993-96) and then returned to the Packers in 2002.
Whitehurst’s memories of his days in Green Bay are a little less vivid.
“I was born in August, during training camp,” he said. “My family lived there for the season and then we would come down to Atlanta in the offseason. So I have a few, very vague Green-and-Gold memories.”
But it was Schneider’s recollection of that day at Clemson – and how impressive Whitehurst was in adverse conditions – that led the Seahawks to him when they went looking to upgrade their quarterback position this offseason. After trading incumbent backup Seneca Wallace to the Cleveland Browns, Schneider and coach Pete Carroll went after Whitehurst.
Hard. They swapped spots in the second round of April’s draft with the Chargers and threw in another pick in 2011 to acquire Whitehurst, and then signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract.
All that for a player who has yet to throw a pass in the regular-season game. But Whitehurst has shown steady improvement since the team’s first minicamp in April, and in last week’s preseason opener he completed 14 of 22 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
“He did what we thought he could do,” Carroll said after reviewing video of the performance. “He really came through very well. We are very pleased about that. It was a big step to take.”
Whitehurst’s time in San Diego was difficult, because he wasn’t used to sitting, watching and waiting. The guy had played – and won – since his early days.
Prior to junior high, in 1993, he led his 90-pound Division I team to the Georgia state title. The following year, his 105-pound team was the state runner-up. At Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, Ga., he passed for 1,780 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, but then played in only six games as a senior before separating his shoulder and breaking a thumb.
At Clemson, he quarterbacked 25 wins – including eight with fourth-quarter comebacks and seven over opponents ranked in the Top 25. He also set 46 school passing records.
It was good enough to get him drafted in the third round. It wasn’t enough to get him any throws in the regular season while playing behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. Difficult? Of course. But also realistic? Definitely.
“Yeah, I was used to playing,” Whitehurst said. “But when there’s a guy starting in front of you like Philip and you have that kind of depth at the position, it’s a little bit different. I didn’t deserve to play.
“You don’t like standing there watching. And I did it for four years. Not that you get used to it. I never got used to it. But you’ve got to fight getting used to it. That’s not what I want to do.
“I’m glad I have a better opportunity now.”
Whitehurst, who just turned 28, was acquired to increase the competitive level at the pivotal position.
“We’re excited about the group. They’ve really worked well together. They’re all pulling for each other and they’re growing,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “It’s a fun group to work with and they’re getting better every day.”
Whitehurst is just glad to be a part of the mix, and to feel like he really is part of the mix.
“I feel like I’m more part of it now, I really do,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I wasn’t there. But I don’t just feel like I’m more in the mix here, I am. It’s easy to see that. It’s easy to make that distinction for me.”
With the coaches monitoring Hasselbeck’s reps in camp, there have been complete practices where Whitehurst has run the No. 1 offense – something that never happened in San Diego.
“There were a few days there were I got the bulk of the reps,” he said. “So I do feel more comfortable. I feel like mentality I’ve got more of a grasp of what we’re trying to do offensively. You practice more, you’re more confident.”
Whitehurst always has had a good foundation to his game. That will happen when you grow up the son of a NFL quarterback. David Whitehurst played seven seasons with the Packers, passing for 2,098 yards in 1978 and 2,247 in 1979. After playing the 1984 season with the Kansas City Chiefs, the family moved back to the Atlanta area – Charlie; his younger sister, Carrie, who played basketball at Clemson; and his parents, David and Beth.
“I’ve done 100 interviews about that, starting in college,” Whitehurst said of the impact his father has had on his development. “I don’t think about it as much anymore. But he taught me how to play football. When I went to high school, I was so much more prepared than everybody out there. In college, I was ahead of the game.”
That edge has been dulled a bit since he entered the NFL, because it’s not the same game his father played.
“I can still have football conversations with my father, but it’s almost reversed,” Whitehurst said. “I’m telling him what we’re doing now and he’s like, ‘Wow. Wow. That’s pretty cool.’ He gets it, but he says, ‘We didn’t things like that (when I was playing).’
“But at other times, I’ll tell him what we’re doing and he says, ‘Ah, we used to run that in the 70s.’ ”
To his credit, Whitehurst also realizes just what his performance against the Titans means in the bigger picture that is the longer seasons.
“It’s nice to go out there and play well,” he said. “But it’s the first preseason game. You’ve got three more preseason games. We’ve got a long season. It’s nice it was the first one, but it doesn’t mean that much.”