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Super Bowl 2013: Donte Whitner's revival with the San Francisco 49ers

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Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times reveals how Donte Whitner made his way to the San Francisco 49ers.


Super Bowl XLVII is bursting with headline-worthy stories, even though the media is really only focusing on three or four. When looking at the players individually, it's clear to see that each one had their own unique path that brought them here.

Some players had more traditional roads to success but that doesn't necessarily make them better. In fact, it's typically the players that fight through adversity that really

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times took a look at 49ers safety Donte Whitner and how he arrived with the team.

He revealed how Whitner failed to live up to expectations in Buffalo as a first round pick and how he was eventually marooned in free agency. Whitner's numbers over the years were middle of the road, and the team continued to suffer losing seasons. He was considered expendable.

Following the 2010 season, Whitner's contract with the team expired and he was an unrestricted free agent.

It was a tough time. Throughout that time, I was calling my agent and talking to him and he was like 'No, I haven't heard from anybody.' I just told myself that whatever training camp I got into and whatever team I was on, I was going to give it my all.

Whitner entailed how he was played by the St. Louis Rams, who said they wanted him over Quintin Mikell, but he never heard back from the team. They eventually signed Mikell from the Philadelphia Eagles.

That was my first taste of rejection. Coming out of high school, being a top guy at my position, having a thousand scholarship offers. Being a starter as a freshman at Ohio State. Being a first-round pick. First time being rejected, first time feeling like maybe I'm not as good as I thought I am and everybody else is right.

He had to wait it out, worrying if he would even get a chance to play in 2011. Eventually the 49ers called and inked the strong safety to a three-year, $11.5 million contract.

The biggest thing for me was getting in training camp with these guys, wanting to go out there and prove that I was a good player, prove that people made a mistake when I did hit the free-agency market. And it turned out like this.

Whitner was a very talented player that had a completely fresh start. Not only that, he recalled Jim Harbaugh telling him, "I want you to come in and lead this secondary." And that's what he has done. From a vocal and performance-based standpoint, Whitner has been a shining example of what a leader is.

Now, the 49ers have three distinguished frontmen at each level of their defensive infrastructure. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis spearheaded this front seven for years, but finally, Whitner was able to tighten up the backend.

After a humbling career experience, Whitner's adverse story may culminate in a Super Bowl championship only two years later.

(on Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin) "Very physical wide receiver. He is very determined to bring his team to the championship. Just going up, catching footballs, running past people on third-down going strong after the catch and being fearless. We are going to have our hands full. We always need to know where he is at all times."

(on the added threat of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith going deep) "Good offenses have a deep threat. They have a third-down possession receiver. (Anquan) Boldin, he is doing everything right now. He is catching the deep balls. He is good in the red zone. He is good on third-down. The run after the catch, he is one of the best in the National Football League."

(on his time with the Buffalo Bills and what he loved the most about playing there) "My teammates. I do miss those guys. It is tough to see them continue to go through what we went through when I was there for five years. Especially the guys that I built strong friendships with, guys like George Wilson, [Terrence] McGee. A lot of the guys. I believe if a lot of the guys are still there this upcoming year and years to come, they should get better. I don't know anything about the coaching staff that is coming in but I know Russ Brandon was promoted to turn everything around. He is the head man over there now, so hopefully he gets it turned around."

(on being with the Niners now) "I'm happy to be a Niner now. When I was drafted up in Buffalo, it was a great experience and an exciting time in my life. I really went out there and put everything on the line every day of the week. I don't really know if I fit the scheme that we had out there. We had a 4-3 Tampa Two defense. If you don't have tremendous pass rushing, Tampa Two is really tough, especially being an undersized strong safety. Coming here, switching to a 3-4 defense, I believe it worked out well for me. Sometimes a player won't fit the scheme and that was the case up in Buffalo."

(on feeling that the Bills organization did not share his passion for winning) "I wouldn't say that they didn't share my passion for winning. I would say that in certain circumstances players don't fit different schemes. When I was drafted up there, I was drafted to be a big strong safety. I had to sit back in Cover Two and not have the freedom to go where the ball is. It is a tough way to play football. I do believe they have the passion to win and the fans want to win. It is just about getting the right guys in there, teaching the right things and having the right players to be able to absorb all of the information, take it and put in on the football field."

(on President Obama's comments about the need to make football safer) "I do believe it is a sport that needs to be safer, but I believe that me and Dashon Goldson, we hit and we tackle and it can be safe. It is a way that you do. You have to practice it. You can't go out there and duck around, fly around, lower your head and run as fast as you can to somebody. It all starts in the weight room first and foremost. It all starts with lower body strength and technique. You have to teach it and coach it like it should be coached. You don't really have to take kids away from the game of football. I know there are a lot of parents out there that are really nervous. I have five-year-old and six-year-old sons. He wants to play football right now and I am going to allow him to do so. It is going to be at a youth level where they are teaching kids how to tackle. Even in the NFL, we have gotten away from fundamentals to where you keep your head up and lower your base. I know when you watch the NFL you think it is the right way to do it. In reality it is not. We are not perfect in the way that we tackle. I would say we are close to being the most efficient in the league without trying to go out there in harm's way and without harming ourselves."

(on 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio) "Vic Fangio has been everything to this football team. He is a tremendous hard worker. Whenever we go into a meeting, he knows what the opposition is going to do. What they are going to try and do to us and how we are going to defend it. He is the reason why we have been able to form such a strong defense. A lot of players came here last year for the first time playing together. I think Carlos [Rogers] was here for the first time, I was here for the first time. We had a bunch of different guys that had to pick up a lot of information in a short amount of time and he was able to do that. He is a teacher first and foremost. Whenever you are a teacher and you can explain to the players why we are doing something, it helps on the football field. He is everything to our football team."

(on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio making adjustments at halftime) "He is very good at making adjustments. When he comes down at half time, he is not yelling and screaming. He comes down, writes his notes on the board, what we're doing wrong, who is not playing well, what areas we need to pick it up, how they are attacking us and we go out there and get the job done. He has never failed us and we believe he is going to have a great game plan for Sunday."

(on how special it is to grow up with wide receiverTed Ginn and now be teammates in the Super Bowl) "It is very special. Growing up, in high school, me and Teddy were like brothers. His dad, Ted Ginn Sr., was the main motivator in pushing us to where we are now. The first day I met him, I was maybe in the eighth grade and I ran into him at an event once. He told me to switch high schools to Glenville so I called my mom and she signed me up. It was honestly the hardest thing I ever did in my life. The work that he put us through to help us get here. We had personal trainers, go in at 6:00 a.m., to work out for our sport. No school dances, none of that. When Teddy is here and we get to do all of these things together it makes it special."

(on this being the moment when it makes all of his previous struggles worth-while) "No, wouldn't say this is the moment. I would say when the confetti is coming down on Sunday night, that will be the moment. You always dream of making it here. Some guys like London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes haven't been here or to the playoffs. You never know when it is going to come. You have to seize the moment and seize the opportunity, and that is what I am going to do."

(on the camaraderie between the first-round picks playing together) "We just want to play good football. We don't really think about it. I know coach did put up these recruiting pictures, so we look at those things and laugh to each other."

(on the 49ers finding talent in the rough) "You have to give credit to the people upstairs. Bringing guys here who were somewhere in the middle when free agency started. We didn't get a lot of calls. Then they brought us here and Carlos was in the Pro Bowl last year and an alternate this year. I was an alternate last year, and made it this year. Dashon Goldson made it both years."

(on whether this is the most talented team he has been part of) "I would say this is the most talented team I have been on. Not only talented, but guys come and work hard. When you mix talent and hard work, the results are the Super Bowl."

(on having more freedom as a player on the 49ers) "Coach Harbaugh gives us a lot of freedom. He has an open door policy. If we have any problem, family problem, or personal problem we can talk to him and he will do his best to solve it. I can't speak for other teams. When I was in Buffalo, it wasn't really that way but it could have been because we had a bunch of young guys. I know here coach really takes our opinion into consideration."

(on Takeo Spikes never reaching the Super Bowl during his lengthy career) "I feel for him. I played with him up in Buffalo. He is a really good guy. Then, he came to the 49ers so these guys know him. He is actually in the Bay Area from time to time. You feel for a guy like that because you know he wants this moment. Coming to the end of his career, you know what type of player he was when he played for the Bengals. You feel for the guy. He has never had this opportunity to sit up here or play in the playoffs. He has been on a lot of bad teams. You feel for him. Hopefully he gets some type of gratification after seeing the 49ers win."

(on how he feels against the deep ball and how they have done against the deep ball this season) "I think we are doing pretty well against the deep ball. One of our goals every week is to not give up a certain amount of deep balls. A certain amount of plays over 20-yards. Most weeks we hit our goal. If we can hit our goal this week I believe we will be ok against the deep ball. Torrey Smith is arguably one of the fastest guys in the NFL, and Joe Flacco has arguably one of the strongest arms in the NFL. If you mix those two in bad coverage, it is going to be a long day. We don't want that to happen. We need to know where those two guys are."

(on any signs that the team is ready to go and if they have seen the Ravens yet) "We haven't seen them yet. We have a lot of work to do. We still have three or four more practices scheduled. We looked at them a lot but you know the team is ready to go when we are not making mental mistakes on the football field. Guys really know what to do and there is no hesitation. We have not seen that yet, so we still have work to do. We're going to have to be ready on gameday. We have to take what we did on the practice field and be able to perform on the field."