MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. –Michael Wilhoite has great advice for young players who believe they are being overlooked like he was.
Although he was overlooked, the former Highland Park graduate kept working towards his goal and is now in his fifth year with the San Francisco 49ers after going undrafted out of Washburn.
“Don’t accept no,” Wilhoite said. “Never accept no. That’s one thing I feel like I never did. That can be an every-day activity or a yearly activity. When you lose or you get beat or somebody tells you ‘no’ then you go back and you work at it again. You work at it and you work at it until you figure it out and until you get better. So my advice to young kids there is to out-work everybody, to never take no for answer, and to always keep pushing.”
Wilhoite plans to continue to give back to the community with his second annual football camp in Topeka during the summer.
“As soon as the season is over I’m going to put a website up, do all that, and I even got the police involved this year,” Wilhoite said. “I’ve already talked to them and they’re going to come out and volunteer, and build a communication wave length through the young kids to the police so that it’s an easy route as they grow up. I really feel like I can change the community in the sense of bringing positive energy back there every year and showing them that you can make it from here to there with other NFL guys and myself included.”
Wilhoite’s journey to the NFL has been well-documented from playing in the Arena League to working at Champs Sports to being a special teams captain for the 49ers in the Super Bowl to being a starter.
Although he is busy with the day-to-day routine of being an NFL player, he often reflects on his unlikely path.
“I think you always have to be thankful,” Wilhoite said. “I don’t think it ever slips the mind of like, ‘Dang this is where I’ve made it.’ I think I’m very thankful of that and I think this year more than any year I say, ‘Man I’m here. I actually made it and I feel blessed about it.’ But at the end of the day you still want to go further. I still have got goals to reach and I’ll keep working until I do.”
Wilhoite is the only Topeka graduate currently playing in any of the four major American professional sports leagues.
Representing the area is something he takes pride in.
“I love it. I love it,” he said. “I love it more than anything because I’ve always told people that you can’t angry when a bunch of people ask you for autographs because you could be someone that no one asks you for autographs so I’m always thankful for that. More than anything I love going back to the community, showing my face, letting people know where I’m from, this is where I came from, this is what raised me, and this is what made me who I am. I love going back there doing my camp every year, getting the community involved together, and just trying to help the community become something it hasn’t seen and better.”
Wilhoite spent his senior year, graduating in 2005, at Highland Park after transferring from Manhattan. In addition to playing football, he also started on the basketball team, which went 16-6, averaging 7.6 points and 2.6 rebounds with 43 3-pointers.
“I remember everything,” Wilhoite said. “Of course coach (Ken) Darting and his yelling, but more than anything at Highland Park that I remember is how much fun we had as a group together. We really enjoyed together. We were always clowning around, always having a good time, always competing. I just remember the guys and the relationships I formed with Hank (Harris), Theron (Wilston), Quinton Taylor, I just remember those guys and feeling like I represented something that was great, something that was good, and that’s still my home so I love it.”
Wilhoite remains close with former Highland Park teammate Kyle Weems, who is playing professional basketball in Turkey. The two are in constant contact helping each other with their seasons.
“It’s been awesome,” Wilhoite said. “He’s the first person that texts me after every game—as soon as I come in the locker room from my games he always has a text for me and it’s always, ‘Don’t worry bro, you look good out there.’ He’s just always supported me and he’s always inspired me. I’ve always told him that he’s doing something that I don’t know if I could do. I don’t know if I could go over there so he’s showing the strength that gives me a little of inspiration and I feel like I try to do the same thing for him, try to inspire him, try to go visit him, try to see him.
“That’s my brother so I’ll do anything for him and I know he cares anytime like right now is a down time for us or whatever you want to call it, but he’s always there. He’s always supported me so I love him.”