STANFORD — Kodi Whitfield has spent most of his life trying to live up to the standard his father, Bob Whitfield, set on the field as an All-American at Stanford and a Pro Bowl offensive lineman in the NFL.
Not this week.
The sophomore wide receiver is getting more attention than he ever has entering eighth-ranked Stanford's game at Oregon State on Saturday night. He started making a name for himself with a remarkable one-handed touchdown catch in the Cardinal's 24-10 victory over UCLA last weekend that has been all the talk on campus.
It was the No. 1 college football play of the week on ESPN and the No. 2 play overall behind Shane Victorino's grand slam that sent the Boston Red Sox to the World Series.
“People are telling me now, 'Your son has surpassed you,'” Bob Whitfield said by phone. “It went from people saying, 'Bob Whitfield's son, Kodi,' to people saying, 'Kodi Whitfield's dad, Bob.'”
Nobody is happier than the elder Whitfield about the sudden spotlight swap.
Bob Whitfield was the eighth overall pick in the 1992 draft by the Atlanta Falcons and played 15 seasons in the NFL. His son was born in Atlanta, grew up in Los Angeles and decided to follow in his father's footsteps on The Farm after graduating from Loyola High School.
Kodi Whitfield, known by teammates as “Sweet Feet” for his smooth route running, caught just two passes for 13 yards all of last year as a freshman. He had five catches for 31 yards this season — spending most of his time as a punt returner — until last week, when one did-you-see-that play landed him on televisions and computer screens across the country.
While slicing to his right on a deep route, Whitfield leaped in the air off his left foot and reached up to make a backhanded catch with his right hand between two defenders. The 30-yard TD reception put Stanford up 10-3 in the third quarter.
“I never made a play like that,” Bob Whitfield said. “A lot of times having your father who played the sport, it's a segue for TV analysts and stuff. And then what ends up happening is you never shake it, so your identity is still your dad's football career that happened before you. So to go up there, he being a receiver and me being a lineman, it really shows his talent is unique and of course I would never possess. So he kind of came out from under my shadow.”
The family has been inundated with congratulatory calls and text messages ever since. And Kodi Whitfield — along with everybody else — is still struggling to explain just how he caught the ball.
Especially considering the play started off horribly: Whitfield was pressed at the line of scrimmage, and quarterback Kevin Hogan said he threw the ball a little late, allowing the backside safety time to move over.
“Once I looked back for the ball, it was in the air and I'm thinking, 'I have to catch it,'” Whitfield said.
The 6-foot-2, 196-pound receiver said he didn't use his left hand because it was being held by a defender. He called the catch “instinctual” and not something he could ever practice.
“I would say genetics,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, “but Bob is 6-7, 335 pounds, so I don't think it came from dad.”
About the only thing Shaw, a former wide receiver, didn't like about the catch was the celebration.
“He lost some cool points when he stood up and dropped the ball,” Shaw quipped.
Whitfield's father was in attendance for the homecoming game — and apparently left his seat before the catch. But he wouldn't say where he was in the stadium or whether he missed the play.
“It will remain a mystery,” he joked.
When Bob saw his son after the game, the first thing he told him had nothing to do with the touchdown. Instead, he asked about a running play.
“He was like, 'How'd you miss that block on 97 Power?'” Kodi recalled.
Typical response for the former lineman. Bob spends time talking with his son every week to do a “game rewind” of what he saw, but he leaves the rest up to Stanford's coaches.
The elder Whitfield had a unique opportunity to see his son on campus when he returned to Stanford last year to finish his degree in economics. He even had a class with center Khalil Wilkes and former center Sam Schwartzstein, though never one with his son.
Whitfield received his diploma in economics on June 16 — Father's Day — with Kodi and his other children in attendance. With his degree and a career full of football experience in hand, he hopes his credentials will set an example to his son and give him some clout when he offers advice — especially now that Kodi has something over him at Stanford.
“The biggest thing is just being consistent,” Whitfield said he told his son this week. “You're coming off the biggest play of your young career, a play that's probably going to be talked about all year long and talked about at Stanford forever. And you still have to go back to work, back to class, back to training, to show the consistency that you can make that catch again.”