Who is Julius Whittier? A look at Texas Longhorns' first Black varsity football player
Among the many changes UT student-athletes have requested from the university include renaming a section of the football stadium after Julius Whittier.
On June 12, 2020, current Texas Longhorns student-athletes banded together with a list of requests for the university to make amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
Among the changes requested were the renaming of buildings on UT's campus, "replacing 'The Eyes of Texas' with a new song without racist undertones," and also renaming an area of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium after Julius Whittier.
Former Texas cornerback Rod Babers also suggested creating a "Julius Whittier Section" in the football stadium. KVUE Sports Reporter Jake Garcia spoke with Barber about the compromise.
Who is Julius Whittier?:
So, who is Julius Whittier?
Whittier is the first Black player to letter in football at the University of Texas in 1970. Texas' 1969 team was the last all-white national champion in college football history, according to the Associated Press. Whittier was a San Antonio native and graduated from Highland High School in 1969. He was among the first Black players to receive a football scholarship when he came to the University of Texas, according to UT athletics.
An excerpt from "What It Means to Be A Longhorn" by Bill Little shows a look at why Whittier decided to attend the University of Texas and gave a look at what life was like for him as a UT student-athlete in 1969:
Excerpt from "What It Means to Be A Longhorn" by Bill Little
"I was a small-town boy. San Antonio was my world, and I had no clue what was going on outside it back then. I thought when I got through playing in high school, I'd be pumping gas somewhere. I had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), so I took life one day at a time. Not in a spiritual manner; I looked at it like, 'Today's it. I'm going to have all the fun I can.'
"When I finished my senior season at Highlands High School, I had no idea colleges were looking at me. They were sending me letters, but I didn't know it. My mom and my coach conspired against me. They deprived me of this knowledge. They both probably knew that I was susceptible to arrogance, so after we'd lost the bi-district game, my coach called me in. He said, 'I talked to your mom about this first, but these are yours,' and he handed me two grocery bags full of letters from schools all over the country. He said, 'Those are yours, but I want you to read this one first,' and he handed me a letter from Coach Royal. That's the one I fell in love with. I don't know what happened to the rest of them.
"Coach Mike Campbell came to the house and offered me a scholarship. My mom and dad stood back and let me choose. They didn't tell me everything negative they'd heard from friends, colleagues, or teachers who expressed concerns about Texas because they'd never played a black. 'Nobody's ever gone to school there on scholarship. If you do go, you'll be buried at the bottom of the roster,' my parents said, 'You go where you want to go, 'although my dad was scared for me. He'd known some guys who struck off into 'white' territory and paid for it with their lives.
"I came to Texas because it was big-time football 80 miles from home. And I loved central Texas. I was in the right place at the right time. I think it was divine – of God – because there were enough white people up there, if they'd wanted to kick my ass, they could have done it. Coach Royal was the right coach; Mike Campbell was the right recruiter; and the group of guys that was there was the right group. A few of my colleagues let their tongues slip, but I was comfortable that they didn't mean me any harm. I didn't care that some had ideas that were antithetical to integration. I didn't care.
"The kids on campus were a delight. I enjoyed going to class. The profs let me raise my hand and spout out my ideas. I blew my Afro out and majored in philosophy. In those days, no one on the football team took anything past philosophy 101. That was an introductory course, and while everyone else thought it was just a grade, it blew my mind, so I decided to major in philosophy.
"I had to do my study halls because all of my philosophy classes required an average of five papers a semester. I was blessed with a great tutor. The athletics department provided tutoring for difficult courses, and since I was the only one majoring in philosophy, I had my own tutor whenever I needed him, Peter Ayo. I learned more from him about constructing a paragraph than I ever learned in English. That's what got me into law school, the fact that I did so well in philosophy. I didn't do well in much else.
"As a sophomore, I subbed for Mike Dean and Bobby Mitchell. I had to move from linebacker to guard to do that, but I was trying to move up the charts so I could get on the field. I knew the roughest part of football would be two-a-days, so I committed myself to being in shape. I told myself I was not going to be dragging butt during two-a-days.
"When I got up there, I was at the top of the fitness chart out of everybody – running backs, wide receivers, everybody Mike Presley and I were first and second in the testing every year he was there – push-ups, sprints, quarter-mile sprints, running stadium stairs, doing weight circuits, whatever. By the time we got to practice, it was easy.
"By the time I was a sophomore, I'd developed a relationship with the quarterbacks. After every play we ran, we had to make the right blocks and then sprint down the field for 25 yards. I played part of the time as a linebacker and part of the time as an offensive guard. After every play, I'd ask Alan Lowry or the running backs to throw me the ball. We were playing catch. By the time I was a senior, the coaches had noticed that I could catch the ball, plus I was in shape, so they moved me to tight end.
"When I was a senior, in 1972, I caught all the touchdown passes that year. Every single one. And I caught it in the A&M game. We had one touchdown pass the entire year. I was the leading receiver that season in touchdown receptions.
"They were all decent people. It was not really a difficult time for me. When I went there, I told myself, as long as I get to play based on my skills, then I'm fine. Nobody gave me a hard time in the dorm or in the dining hall. In fact, I believe I was the only one on the team who had a personal relationship with the cook. Of course, he was black, and I'd come in through the kitchen when everybody else was out front, waiting at the door.
"Kids those days were active in everything: ecology, civil rights, Vietnam, the draft, segregation versus integration, divestment of UT's investments in South Africa – that was the fun thing about UT. It seemed to be a real university. Many different viewpoints were tolerated. If there were racists on that campus, I didn't know it. They didn't find me, anyway. I remember walking on the west mall, with all the different booths students had set up to recruit and promote their various interests. That was one thing that made me understand how small San Antonio was. When I got to Texas, it seemed like the whole horizon got pushed back 5,000 miles. It told me San Antonio wasn't the only town on the earth.
"That was a great time to be in college, not only because we were kicking butt in football but because the kids on that campus were genuinely and sincerely involved in more than just partying and sex and drugs.
"The most memorable thing for me is not even football-related. My academic experience at UT was more than just getting the grades to graduate. It was waking up and appreciating the opportunity to go to a school like Texas and thinking, 'How much is there that I don't know and don't understand?' That was the most amazing feeling.
"Had I not gone to UT, I don't believe I'd be able to converse with as many different people as I am able to today. There's so much here – if you just let yourself experience it – that opens you up to many other realms of life that can be hidden from you if you have no clue how to act. UT is like a key; it opens doors.
"The University is part of a state that was its own country at one point. There's no other state in the union like it. Texans are a lot like the institutions they created – for instance, the Texas Rangers. Texans are forthright – those who are true to it – they know what to stand up for, how to stand up, and when it's time to stand up. The University, aspiring to be a university of the first class, is a symbol of that spirit. Even though we come from a racist past, we should be proud that we have created this University that attempts to collect all of what is known about us, our lives, and the world we live in and to preserve the thought and reflection of it for future generations. I'm proud of that. I'm proud to have gone to The University.
"To be a starting athlete on one of the best teams in the country – there's just no comparison. Football was my vehicle to become a Longhorn. Being a Longhorn is not simply about playing sports, it's about being part of The University life. There's far more to that in my life than just being a football player. I enjoyed pleasing my coach, and I enjoyed playing football. But the bigger thing is that Coach Royal turned me on to a quality University in my own state. When that group of men declared our independence in 1836, it was done with guys – whatever their thoughts on race – who had big ideas about the real world and the future. I'm proud of that."
Whittier's playing career at Texas:
Whittier was a three-year letterman at the University of Texas from 1970 to 1972. He played offensive tackle for UT's National Championship team in 1970 and again in 1971, before transitioning to tight end for his senior season in 1972.
In Whittier's career at Texas, the Longhorns were 28-5 overall and 20-1 in the Southwest Conference (SWC). After winning the National Championship in 1970 and 1971, UT finished No. 3 in the national rankings during Whittier's senior season in 1972, finishing the year with a 17-13 victory over No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl, according to Texas Athletics.
In 2013, Whittier was honored with a spot in the Longhorn Hall of Honor.
In 2018, he was inducted into the San Antonio Independent School District Hall of Fame.
Whittier's life off of the football field:
Whittier's legend also extended beyond the football field, according to Babers.
"So, he was a very he actually was a dancer in the Austin Ballet for a few years. He is an extraordinary, intelligent, intellectual phenomenon, he was on the Forty Acres," Babers said. "And he should be celebrated because I'm sure that his journey to integrate Texas football wasn't an easy one, but he was really, really good. And a lot of guys before him, they had integrated. But he was the first one to actually make the varsity roster. So let's celebrate him."
Whittier earned an undergraduate degree at UT and also a graduate degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and later completed his law degree at Texas as well.
From there, Whittier spent much of his working life as a senior prosecutor in the Dallas County District Attorney's office before retiring in 2012.
In Memoriam: Julius Whittier, 1950-2018:
On Sept. 27, 2018, the University of Texas announced Julius Whittier had passed away.
When news broke of Whittier's passing, numerous Longhorns expressed their appreciation for Whittier's trailblazing path he paved for young Black athletes at UT.
"I'm very thankful and appreciative for Mr. Whittier paving the way so that I could go to the University of Texas to play a sport I love. And most importantly, graduate from one of the finest academic institutions in the country," said Norman Watkins, who played linebacker at Texas from 1991 to 1994.
Rodrick Walker, who played running back for the Longhorns in the 1990s, expressed the same appreciation.
"Mr. Whittier is a pioneer, not just for black football players at the University of Texas, but for all black athletes here," said Walker. "He set a standard that we all strive to maintain. He's simply one of the best."
Texas legend Vince Young also expressed his appreciation for Whittier on Twitter that day tweeting, "#RIP Julius Whittier. Wrote a paper about him for school & had opportunity to meet him you will be missed."
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