ORONO, Maine — Lamir Whetstone was blessed to grow up in a loving and supportive family in his hometown of Trenton, N.J.
That’s why, despite receiving a handful of scholarship offers from other Division I programs, he chose to attend the University of Maine.
“I felt like this team was closer than the others that I visited,” said Whetstone, a senior for coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears. “They had more of a family atmosphere and it’s that bond that you feel when you’re recruited.”
The 6-foot, 180-pounder has found what he was looking for at UMaine, serving as a dependable four-year performer in the secondary. The Bears’ starting free safety hopes a shoulder injury won’t hamper him Saturday when UMaine plays a 6 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association home game against No. 2 James Madison at Alfond Stadium.
Whetstone has been a mainstay of the Bears’ defense since his arrival in 2005, when he played in 11 games and made four starts at cornerback. This season, he is tied for third on the team with 24 tackles and has an interception, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
After playing mostly cornerback his first three seasons, Whetstone was moved this fall to safety. The position makes him a more versatile performer.
“He’s been very good in the run support and has done a nice job being the quarterback back there on the defense,” Cosgrove said. “Now he’s more inside on run support and being a tackler as opposed to out on a corner and covering a guy one-on-one.”
The role has been a welcome change for Whetstone, who has felt like more of a contributor.
“At first I was a little reluctant about moving there, but I feel like I have the opportunity to make more plays,” he said. “It definitely has enabled me to be more of a factor.”
Whetstone also must evaluate what opponents are doing and get the secondary properly aligned to defend each play. His extensive experience (35 career games, 23 starts) has helped him handle those duties.
“It gives you more control and more responsibility,” he said, crediting predecessors Daren Stone and Alex Goyins as having taught him well. “I just try to help all the DBs (defensive backs) because I feel like they all look to me for leadership and guidance.”
Cosgrove said Whetstone has the respect and admiration of his teammates.
“What he offers always comes with a sharp, clear message,” Cosgrove said. “He provides the kind of intellectual leadership that they can understand and embrace and model.”
Whetstone’s journey to UMaine began at Notre Dame High School, a pricey Catholic school with a solid athletic tradition. He had hoped to attend a different private school, but instead enrolled at Notre Dame at the urging of his mother.
“Mom knows best,” Whetstone said with a smile. “I turned out to be the best decision for me.”
Whetstone was a versatile all-league and all-area performer at Notre Dame, where he had to make one important adjustment. He was one of only a handful of black students.
“That was a little worrying for me at first, but it made me more diverse and helped me understand people better,” he said.
It also helped him make a smooth transition to college life in Orono, Maine.
Former UMaine assistant Bobby Wilder recruited Whetstone, also a standout track and field performer. He won state parochial school state titles in both the 110-meter high hurdles and high jump as a senior.
Several CAA schools jumped on the recruiting bandwagon, but Whetstone didn’t turn his back on UMaine. He valued the close-knit atmosphere.
Whetstone is majoring in child development and family relations and owns a 2.9 grade point average. He chose his major because of his affinity for his sister Kenzi, 10, and numerous cousins.
He credits his parents, Ferdinand and Sherita, with providing a nurturing environment in which to learn, grow and pursue his dreams.
“They told me, you can be anything you want to be, you just have to work hard,” Whetstone said.
Next spring, Whetstone will share an important milestone with his mom as they will both graduate from college. Sherita Whetstone attends Rider University, just down the street from Notre Dame.
“My mom is my biggest hero,” Whetstone said. “She had me at a very young age and that didn’t stop her from doing the things she wanted to do.”
It was that kind of determination that helped him become a successful student-athlete.