By Matthew Wieselthier SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — The auditorium inside the Iocolano-Petty Football Complex was filled with audible confusion from the Syracuse Football team. Around 3 p.m. on Thursdays is typically when the team meets to break into position groups to go over strategy for the upcoming week’s game. Instead, all they heard was that a guest speaker was on their way. That is when Dino Babers, Syracuse’s Head Football Coach, came up to the microphone.
“We have a special presentation here for a member of the family, a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team,” Babers announced to his team. “We would like this family to recognize and congratulate Kielan Whitner.”
Kielan Whitner is just one of 22 athletes across all of college football to be named to this team, a team that does its work off the field. The award is given to those who do outstanding work helping out their communities.
Whitner is a perfect example of that. He has traveled down to Haiti to help as part of Eternal Hope for Haiti, he is the Syracuse player captain for Team IMPACT, and has helped out at the CNY chapter of the For A Day Foundation, just to name a few.
Despite all his hard work, this is not an honor that Whitner was anticipating.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting it, kind of caught off guard by the whole situation,” said the senior linebacker, who has been key for Syracuse both on and off the field. “You don’t do those types of things for recognition like that, but I guess I was able to do something and hopefully it will prompt other people to do certain things like that.”
While he is humbly accepting his award, others in the community he has worked with see why he is deserving of the honor.
Katie Flaherty, Mrs. Onondaga County and the head of the CNY Chapter of the For A Day Foundation, knows how big an impact people like Whitner can have on those they work with.
“They look up to him as a leader and role model,” said Flaherty, who has worked directly with Whitner at events in the Onondaga County community. “They were very excited he was there, he played video games with one child, watched another child play a game and interacted with the kids we were visiting.”
Flaherty also recognizes that someone like Whitner can be even more than just another leader in the community.
“They’re labeled as superheroes to little kids,” said Flaherty of Whitner and the athletes that go help in the community. “These kids look up to athletes, anyone who is committing outside of their comfort level.”
Whitner has certainly started to make it seem like it is his comfort zone with all the work he does in the community. Now with the season underway, the linebacker will be spending more time on the field than off of it. However, he knows that in the end, it is this award that may define who he is and will go on top of the trophy case.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. My mom is super proud of me,” noted Whitner, as he looked to take in what winning this award truly meant. “Football awards are awesome and you love accomplishing things on the football field. But, I feel like this type of award just reaches so many more people and helps out a lot more people than just myself which is really the most important thing. So I would honestly say that this is probably one of the top things I have ever accomplished and I am proud to have been able to accomplish it.”