By Griffin Guinta
The idea of a father coaching his son is timeless. Throughout sports history, a myriad of legendary father-son duos have etched their names in the history books; Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr., Archie and Peyton Manning and Dell and Steph Curry to name a few.
During their time together at UT, the father-son tandem of Rory and Conor Whipple has been a major driving force behind the success of Spartan lacrosse. Rory, the head coach, owns a combined 45-7 record at UT to date, and Conor has garnered accolades ranging from All-American to Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Player of the Year.
In a season in which expectations run high for the Spartans, the younger Whipple has been tasked with leading the charge. Injuries to junior defender Marty Heyn (knee surgery) and junior attacker Jake Rooney (concussions) have only increased the load Conor must carry. If you ask him, though, he isn’t letting that deter his focus.
“I like to lead by example and do the right thing,” Conor Whipple said. “Hopefully people will realize that and do the same. I try not to complain and just get to work.”
Teammates, such as junior defenseman Peter Schofield, use the words “alpha male, jackhammer, and buzzsaw” to describe his grit, and they’re not wrong. Conor’s durability has been undeniable; playing (and starting) in every game since his arrival at the school.
So just where did all of this lacrosse prowess come from?
Before Conor could even walk, he had a lacrosse stick in his hands. Unsurprisingly, Coach Whipple had him playing all kinds of sports from an early age, even wrestling. An instance of vomiting on the mat before a match in sixth grade prompted him to explore other options. Luckily, he found lacrosse, a sport in which he has yet to vomit while playing.
As a high schooler at renowned prep school St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton, Fl., he achieved All-American status three times, prompting several Division I colleges to scout him. ESPN even had him rated as the 25 best high school junior lacrosse player. Eager to take his game to the next level, Whipple committed to Georgetown University to join a formidable Hoya team.
Like most things in life, plans didn’t go exactly as he envisioned, and the allure of playing for competitive UT squad coached by his own father compelled him to transfer here after his freshman year. That being said, nothing is easier just because his dad is now his coach.
“I get on him pretty good,” Coach Whipple said with a laugh. “I try to work him as hard, if not harder than anybody else. But it’s an enjoyment. It’s something I really cherish, and fortunately I have two and a half more years of coaching him.”
Conor described his experience as “the coach’s son” as unique, and ultimately doesn’t find it to be a distraction.
“It’s different. But at the same time he treats me like a normal player and doesn’t try to single me out, so it’s not too bad,” he said.
Behind the scenes, Conor Whipple is a fairly straightforward guy. He prioritizes family, he isn’t arrogant or boastful, and strives to push himself continually.
Even after a stellar freshman season, he frequented the weight room all summer (gaining twenty pounds of muscle), and admits that he still has a lot to work on. All of these qualities make him extremely coachable, and his lead-by-example mindset cools a locker room full of immensely different personalities.
“He will listen. He will do whatever you tell him to do. This year he was voted captain and he’s only a sophomore, so kids look up to him. He’s just always been a good leader. We’re counting on him quite a bit this year,” Coach Whipple said.
And count on him they will. In what is expected to be a title year for the Spartans, they’ll need their captain leading the charge every step of the way.
Griffin Guinta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.