Out of the 66 players, comprising of draft picks, college free agents under contract and tryout players, one of those attempting to make inroads towards a contract and potential invitation to the Saints offseason roster, several made a positive impression on Friday's first workout. For one New Orleans area recent graduate, today's session had an even more significant meaning In addition to working hard towards achieving his dream of playing in the NFL, for WR Steven Whitehead, a Salmen High School alumnus who played at McNeese State, the opportunity to tryout for his hometown team is additional icing on the cake.
After starring for the Spartans and graduating in 2004, Whitehead first stepped foot on the McNeese campus in Lake Charles that fall. He played a supporting role for the Cowboys on offense as a freshman and sophomore, while making significant contributions on special teams. The 5-7, 171 pounder enjoyed a breakout season his junior year when he had 44 receptions for 570 yards with three touchdowns. With hopes high for an exceptional senior season, he faced some adversity when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season, which would sideline him.
Fortunately, Whitehead would receive a medical redshirt for his shortened 2007 campaign and had the opportunity to return for a fifth season in 2008. He made the most of it, as he was the Cowboys' leading receiver by a wide margin, catching 57 passes for 810 yards (14.2 avg.) and four touchdowns, averaging 73.6 receiving yards per game. A running and special teams threat also, the former St. Tammany standout carried 34 times for 194 yards (5.7 avg.), while also serving as a weapon in the kickoff and punt return game, fishing with 1,472 all-purpose yards. He was named to the Louisiana Sports Writers Association all-Louisiana college football team for the second time at McNeese as he closed out his career in Lake Charles with 136 grabs for 1,696 receiving yards and 4,849 all-purpose yards as well
"I've had the accolades since I was at Salmen and in college, but it's an ongoing process of trying to improve myself that has just started," said Whitehead
Despite his banner final season, his name was not called on draft day, nor was he signed to a free agent contract immediately after the draft. His best opportunity was a call from the Saints player personnel staff to join 49 other players not under contract to take part in this weekend's rookie minicamp at the team's Metairie practice facility on a tryout basis.
"I'm just really grateful for Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis for providing me with this opportunity and I hope to make the most of it, said Whitehead. "I feel really blessed and hopefully I can open up some eyes.
Donning number 84 in the tryout camp, ironically the number of the team's former local hero, biggest all-purpose threat in club history and current team ambassador Michael Lewis, Whitehead caught the passes thrown to him and participated in special teams drills as he seeks to beat the odds just like the "Beer Man" first did nine years ago as a member of the team's practice squad. Speaking to several reporters who remembered him from his high school days, the speedy wideout was philosophical in assessing his first workout of the weekend, as he juggles trying to perform at a high level as well as digest some of the offensive and special teams verbiage being thrown at him this weekend as he hopes to open the eyes of the club's coaching and personnel staff.
"I try to catch every ball I can," said Whitehead. "I try to focus on myself and do everything I possibly can. You have to try to catch on to everything as quick as possible and succeed. The only thing I can control is myself and hopefully they like me."