Jumping into the record books: Highland’s Whitaker, Boys Winter Track Athlete of Year

Highland junior Floyd Whitaker, the Boys Winter Track Athlete of the Year, joined former U.S. Olympian Dennis Mitchell as the only two South Jersey athletes to win two MOC titles in the same season.

Highland Regional High School junior Floyd Whitaker has Olympic aspirations, and why not? Earlier this month Whitaker became just the second South Jersey athlete in history to win two different events at the Meet of Champions, joining Edgewood (now Winslow Township) graduate and former U.S. Olympian Dennis Mitchell in 1983. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The track and field coaches at Highland Regional High School had known about Floyd Whitaker since he was a pre-teen running at Glen Landing Middle School in Gloucester Township. Known for their cross-country teams, the Highland coaches raved about the way the kid ran the mile and saw a possible long distance career for the gifted athlete.

But Whitaker saw his true calling 21 months ago.

Competing at the New Balance Outdoor National Championships at the North Carolina A&T State University in June 2018, fresh off his first high school track season, Whitaker won the triple jump in the freshman division with a 45-10.75 jump.

He wasn’t satisfied.

“To me that wasn’t enough, I wanted to go against everybody,” Whitaker said. “So I just worked harder. I knew there were people better than me, but I knew that if I worked hard enough, that sooner or later I’d be better than them.”

Whitaker’s work has paid off. A winter that began on Highland’s basketball court ended with him taking home two Meet of Champions indoor track  medals.

Whitaker jumped to first-place finishes in the triple jump and long jump at the Meet of Champions at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island, New York, on March 8, making history in the process. Whitaker joined former U.S. Olympian and Edgewood High School (now Winslow Township) grad Dennis Mitchell as the only two South Jersey athletes to win two MOC events in the same season.

“That’s definitely something different,” the 16-year-old Whitaker said. “(But) I believe I can go to the Olympics and win some gold medals. So I’m almost following his footsteps and hoping to go even further. It’s definitely something to go after.”

Perhaps the most gifted athlete in South Jersey, Whitaker collected one more honor before the indoor season was complete: He is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Winter Track Athlete of the Year.

“It’s amazing,” the Highland junior said. “There aren’t too many words. I never achieved something like this.”

Although the spring season is currently in limbo due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely Whitaker isn’t finished receiving more medals and personal accolades in his prep career. The kid who entered high school as a talented basketball player with serious track skills has grown into one of the best triple jumpers in the country.

While they may have pegged him early as a distance runner, the Highland coaches are hardly surprised at Whitaker’s success.

“He’s a really rare talent,” said Highland coach Josh Krowicki. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an athlete like this come through the school. And I have him in (physical education) class. When he’s in the gym and he gets excited about something or wants to win something, the kids kind of stare at him in awe and shrug their shoulders because they can’t keep up with that.

“We’re playing tennis and the kid is beating kids on the tennis team because he can cover the whole court in one step,” Krowicki added. “And they’re just looking at me like ‘I don’t know what to do’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah I don’t know, either. I can’t help you.’”

It probably wouldn’t sound surprising, then, to learn that Whitaker — who became Highland’s first-ever Meet of Champions winner in the triple jump last spring — averaged 12.64 shots, 6.72 rebounds, 1.08 blocks and 1.04 steals per game as a sophomore on the Tartans basketball team last year. He collected a double-double in the first game of his junior year in a win over Hammonton a week before Christmas and was averaging 13.7 points through his first seven games.

But then Whitaker decided it was time to switch sports midseason.

“It was tough … it was really hard,” Whitaker said. “(Track) was a bigger opportunity and I wasn’t doing what I thought I could with the (basketball) team, not doing as good, or it wasn’t what I expected. I’m happy with the decision because winning at Meet of Champions was big. With spring track and all of the issues going on, I’m glad I got some jumps in and got to compete with everybody.”

Whenever the high school sports schedule resumes, you can bet Whitaker will make a run at more history now that he’s solely concentrating on track and field. He already competes nationally with the prestigious Project Triple Jump and could eye an opportunity to collect a MOC medal in another event, the high jump, before his high school career is over.

“We’re kind of in uncharted territory,” Krowicki said. “I don’t know what the ceiling is, because the kid keeps getting better every day. We’ve come to expect the unexpected.”

A state record in the triple jump seems like an attainable goal. Whitaker’s 50-2 jump last year set a sophomore record and, with two high school seasons left, he is surely in striking distance of the 50-9.25 state record (set by Delsea’s Khaliel Burnett two years ago).

But Whitaker runs the 400 hurdles, too. And he’s just established himself as the state’s current top long jumper.

“We keep setting our sights higher for him, and he likes that,” Krowicki said. “When he started triple jumping, we knew he really had a talent for it. And then he started long jumping and it’s like, ‘What’s next?’ And the kid came out this year from basketball and he high jumped 6-6, which is a 4-inch PR from what he did previously — and this was coming off the basketball court. 

“He actually qualified for the state meet in the high jump as well, so he could have done all three and he probably could have qualified for MOC in that, too, not that he would have won. But, gosh, if you tell him he can’t win, he might surprise you.”