If everyone’s lives were likened to the game of football, then everyone could most likely point out the team of players that helped shape the story of their lives. For 43-year-old Lake of the Ozarks native Jason Whittle, it seems he had the perfect mixture of faith, family, friends and mentors to help him reach his destiny.
That destiny includes not only 11 seasons as a professional football player, but also a great marriage, six children, a successful real estate company and a strong faith in God.
IN THE BEGINNING
Born to Kerry and Lolly Whittle on March 7, 1975, Jason says his parents played a huge role in his success from
the very start. “My parents have, hands down, been my biggest supporters throughout my entire life. They sacrificed a lot, and never once had a negative word to say,” Whittle says, adding that his parents always told him they can’t recall a time when he didn’t have a football in his hands.
Jason’s father Kerry, a football star in his own right at Iberia High School in the 1970s, passed down his athletic ability and
strong work ethic. “Playing football is one of my earliest childhood memories,” Whittle says. “My cousins and I would play nonstop, and I even played on a little league team in Richland.”
CARVING A PATH TO THE NFL
The Whittle family moved from Iberia to Osage Beach after Jason’s sixth-grade year, where he and his siblings attended the Camdenton R-III School District. That move set Whittle on a path to be coached by longtime Camdenton High School
coach Bob Shore. “Bob Shore is a legendary coach who added to my love of the game of football,” Whittle says. “He created a fun environment, which fit my style of play. Work hard and play hard — Bob taught me that.”
Whittle played defensive end and offensive lineman throughout his high school career, which earned him All-State honors in 1991 and 1992. He also earned a football scholarship to play at Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State University) after graduating from Camdenton High School in 1993. Moving on to play for the Missouri State Bears in Springfield, he was awarded the Arthur Briggs Award as a top scholar athlete in 1995, and became a letterman all four years of his college career. It was at Missouri State that Whittle says he was fortunate to be coached by J.C. Harper and Rick Nelson.
“J.C. took me to a new level of mental toughness, he showed me what toughness was. Rick taught me a great lesson about caring, because he cared so much for all the guys,” Whittle says. As his college career was winding down, so were his hopes of becoming
a professional player. “The older I got, I was more realistic that a career in the NFL may not happen, so I really thought I might end up being a physical education instructor or a high school football coach,” Whittle says. Yet, his destiny was still waiting to be fulfilled.
While still studying at Missouri State, Jason was invited to attend mini-camps for the New York Giants. Willing to put in the time, effort and hard work it would take to compete with other highly talented athletes, he decided to dedicate himself to focusing on his dream. Once he graduated from college, he was signed by the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 1998.
“I went up to New York full-time for training camp, where I ended up making the practice squad, and by the end of that year I got on the regular roster,” he says. “Then going into my second year, I became the backup guard and center for the team.” It was in his fourth year with the Giants that he became a full-time starter at guard. He delved head-on into his career and helped the Giants win two NFC East titles in 2000 and 2005, as well as an NFC Championship in 2000, where the team made it to the Super Bowl.
His career in the NFL spanned a total of 11 years from 1998 to 2008, playing seven of those year with the Giants, one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one with the Minnesota Vikings and the last two with the Buffalo Bills. “Sometimes you have to pinch yourself that you got to do what you loved to do and realize that there are so many people who encouraged you along the way, it wasn’t just one person,” Whittle says.
A FAMILY OF HIS OWN
He met his future wife Natalie during a geography class his freshman year at Missouri State, but says it took another three years to go on their first date. “She was a Sugar Bear dance squad member, so we ran in the same circles, but it wasn’t until my junior year and her senior year that she invited me to her sorority dance,” Whittle says. Asking Natalie to help him find a tuxedo for the occasion proved to be a fun adventure that Whittle says sealed the deal for him. Natalie went on to earn her Bachelors in elementary education and lived with Whittle’s parents for a year while she taught in Eldon, Missouri, while he was working hard to make it into the NFL.
They married in 1999, and she was by his side throughout the course of his professional football career. “She fed me really good during those years,” joked Whittle before continuing, “NFL wives don’t have it easy. Natalie is an unbelievable woman who always encouraged me, was eager to travel with me and she’s my biggest fan — she’d always tell me I was great, even when I wasn’t.” The couple wasted no time having a team of their own with a grand total of six children. They have four girls and two boys: Claire, 17;
Olivia, 15; Annie, 14; Mia, 12; Garrett, 7; and Judah, 5. “It’s interesting to look back at my relationship with Natalie and see
how so many older teammates and team chaplains poured into our marriage and how those relationships affected our walk together, and how we were able to pour ourselves into others,” Whittle says. So what has fatherhood taught the former football player? “You learn so much from being a parent, because it’s not easy. You learn how to be selfless, because there is nothing more selfless than to give up sleep and take care of their needs. They teach you a lot,” Whittle says warmly. Pointing out that the biggest thing he has learned from his children is love, he says, “The first time I held each of my kids is a moment of impossibility to explain unless you have kids. Your heart hurts because you love them so much.”
The greatest hope as a parent is to teach his children to love well, and more than anything he and Natalie hope their children live in whatever God’s plan is, and they are doing their best to encourage them to do just that.
LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL
Choosing a new career path and a new place to live were two things the Whittles had to consider after the NFL days were over. The couple had already purchased a second home at the Lake of the Ozarks in 2005 so they could enjoy the Lake during the off-season, and Jason had already obtained his real estate license from doing some investing. Although the pair had considered moving back to St. Louis, in the end it made more sense to them to settle in Osage Beach.
Whittle is currently the co-owner and a broker of RE/MAX Lake of the Ozarks, which is one of the top RE/MAX firms in the Midwest. “I really do enjoy helping people find homes at the Lake,” he says. “We were blessed to have such unbelievable people around us to help us grow. It really is a great opportunity.”
MISSOURI SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Serving as head football coach for the Camdenton Lakers for 36 years, Whittle’s high school coach Bob Shore secured 368 wins and countless championships, which landed him in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. The Camdenton Lakers football program was inducted with the class of 2016. Thus, the announcement that Jason Whittle would be inducted into the same Hall of Fame on October 17, 2018, was a great moment for many at the Lake of the Ozarks. “Jason was a kid who stood out and is a great leader by example,” Shore says. “There is a lot of pride in Jason, because he is the only NFL player to come out of our program. We are so proud of him and the man he has turned out to be. He is a role model, a leader and the real deal.”
As for Whittle himself, the news of the induction took him bysurprise. “It’s an unbelievable honor, and I’m humbled and honored
to be considered. It’s a nice award that I had not thought about because I’m 43 years old and have been removed from sports for
nearly a decade.”
WHAT FOOTBALL TAUGHT HIM
Whittle’s life now revolves around his family, but he considers himself blessed to have had a career in the NFL. So, what did he learn from his journey? “Football teaches you about teamwork, hard work, how to handle winning and losing and it teaches you about not giving up,” Whittle says. “It’s amazing how much of that transfers into the business world. Consistency over time. There are some people who are unbelievably talented, but sometimes those who succeed are the people with less talent who are willing to do the little things over and over again. So, learn how to win graciously, handle the successes and failures and the highs and the lows with grace. Persevere and have the willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.”
HIS FAITH AND ENCOURAGEMENT
Heavily involved with the Potter’s House Church of Camdenton, the Whittles strive to entwine their faith in every aspect of their lives. Proud of his faith and walking strong within it, Whittle is most proud to be an Elder of his church. “There’s nothing that faith isn’t a part of — the way we work, parent, the way partnerships are set up — literally everything we do is the litmus test that is placed against us, and it lets us bring honor to God. I love my faith,” Whittle says.
Current Camdenton Lakers football coach Jeff Shore shared that Whittle is never too busy to come and talk with the high school team to give them words of wisdom, encouragement and motivation. “Jason is inspiring and a genuinely good guy,” Shore says. “He does a lot of work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program at Camdenton High School. He has even lent us his expertise in different types of pass plays to make the team more successful.”
Lending his hand to help others without the limelight of praise and attention, Whittle says he would most like to be remembered
for being a great husband and father above anything else. “I would like for people to be able to say that I loved God, my wife and
kids, but that I treated everybody the way they should be treated, that I loved people well and did what was right.” •