Whitney leaves Missouri after his first season

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Former Jackson star quits team, returns home.

By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian

The University of Missouri football career for one of the most celebrated recruits to ever come out of Southeast Missouri is over after just one injury-plagued season.

Mario Whitney, Jackson High School's record-setting running back who graduated in 2002, has quit the Missouri team and withdrawn from school.

"I just wasn't happy up there," Whitney said Wednesday night, just a short time after returning home from Columbia, Mo. "It's a great system and I got along fine with the coaches. It just wasn't working for me."

Whitney rushed for 5,027 yards and scored 90 touchdowns during his high school career. He holds the Missouri state record of 9.3 yards per carry in a career and ran for 463 yards in one game, another state record.

A top 100 national recruit, Whitney was courted by some of the country's premier programs before signing with Missouri.

Whitney played in the Tigers' first two games last year -- he rushed five times for seven yards and returned two kickoffs for 45 yards -- before suffering a shoulder injury. He sat out the rest of the season as a medical redshirt, meaning he did not lose a year of eligibility.

In February, Whitney was moved to wide receiver and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel seemed excited by the switch. Whitney said the move to receiver had no impact on his decision to leave.

"Me and coach Pinkel talked about it and I agreed to the decision," Whitney said.

Whitney said he will spend the rest of the school year at home in Jackson and has no immediate future college plans, although he seemed certain that he will eventually resume his collegiate athletic career -- either in football or track, a sport in which he was Missouri's top prep sprinter as a senior.

"As of right now, I'm not sure what I'm going to do," Whitney said. "Track is definitely an option. That's one of the things I wanted to do coming out of high school, run track and play football, but Missouri didn't want me to do both."

Whitney didn't rule out a possible transfer to Southeast Missouri State University, where he would be immediately eligible to play for the Division I-AA Indians next season. If Whitney transferred to another Division I-A program, he would have to sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules.

"A couple of friends have talked to me about SEMO and I'll definitely keep that open," Whitney said.

Two of Whitney's former teammates at Jackson High School, tight end Ray Goodson and defensive tackle Caleb Daniel, are starters for Southeast.

Added Whitney, "I'm trying to keep all my options open. I don't want to make any quick commitments. I'm just going to try and get a job and enjoy my time at home for a while."

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