By Heath Virgin, Madison Central High School
From East Memphis, Tennessee, to Horn Lake, Mississippi, back to Memphis, then to Southaven, Mississippi, to Germantown, Tennessee, finally returning to Southaven.
Jay Whitehead, a rising junior at Memphis University School, has moved a lot.
Whitehead’s mother wanted her children to go to the best schools to receive the best education.
The moving made it difficult for Whitehead, 16, to maintain friendships as he moved from place to place before seventh grade.
“I guess you could say that I used sports to develop relationships,” Whitehead said.
With all that moving around, his best friends were his cousins because they were constantly by his side, move after move. Trying to develop new friendships at new schools has helped Whitehead deal with adversity when it comes his way.
He now lives in Southaven, Mississippi, and plays basketball and football and runs track at MUS. In addition to athletics, he makes his education a priority as he heads into his junior year.
“During school, I’d be in the building from 6 [a.m.] to 10 [p.m.],” Whitehead said, going to school in the morning for his studies, then staying at school until the evening for athletics.
A 16-hour school day didn’t stop Whitehead from completing homework assignments, although he often wouldn’t go to bed until midnight.
“It was stressful, man,” he said. “I’d be sore after practice and everything.”
Whitehead said moving to MUS, a private school with “an average of a 31 ACT score,” in seventh grade “was a smack in the face” during his first year. His grades had dropped after switching to a more challenging school.
He still worked hard to rebuild his grades and now maintains at least a 3.5 GPA.
Since the age of 6, Whitehead has played football.
“It’s basically a religion for me,” he said.
He won Little League MVP during his sixth-grade year. The excitement was “for real.”
After seeing Whitehead’s talents, MUS’ football coach persuaded him to come and play football for the school.
“I started playing for the seventh-grade team then the eighth-grade team,” Whitehead said. “Then I made the varsity team during my sophomore year.”
Right now, his dream is to play football for a career. He is exploring other professions and was also recently accepted to the Xposure High School Journalism Workshop at Western Kentucky University.
“So far I’ve learned to be organized,” Whitehead said about what he’s learned. “You got to be on top of it.”
Whitehead connected football with what’s he’s learned from Xposure.
“In [football] you can’t be quiet or shy,” he said. “You have to have your voice heard.”
Whitehead said when he hears the word inspiration he thinks of his mom. She is currently enrolled in college at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.
“There would be times where she would write a 20-page essay while cooking me dinner after a long work day,” he said.
In addition to his cousins and his mother, Whitehead is the youngest of his siblings. He has three older brothers and two older sisters. His oldest brother formerly served in the military, and he also has an older brother in the U.S. Air Force who is stationed in New Mexico.
“I guess you could call me a spitting image of my brothers,” he said, adding that the way he talked, acted and the things he wore were “similar” to his brothers.
His shoe collection, which has grown to about 40 pairs, started as he wanted to be like his older brothers.
“Every time there was a new Jordan out, my brothers got that shoe,” Whitehead said. “I guess you could call me a sneaker head.”
After moving nearly year after year, Whitehead said he was thankful to have his family through it all.
“With all the moving going on, the only thing constant was my brothers and my family,” he said.
But moving and athletics weren’t the only driving forces.
“My parents taught me to always be respectful,” Whitehead said. “And work hard.”
There were other lessons, too.
“My mom said that you have especially born as a young black male, you’re born with two strikes,” Whitehead said. “So you can’t get that strike three. You have to be respectful at all times no matter what.”