Like every Division I football player signing a letter of intent on Wednesday, Dwyer High (FL) defensive back Julian Whigham was anxious and ready to celebrate his athletic accomplishment.
But as the now 6-foot-1, 185-pound prospect was ready to sign with Syracuse after a late bevy of BCS offers, reflecting on where he was a year prior made it that much more special.
"I was struggling with health and trying to be a football player; I got to a point mentally where I didn't even know if I had a future," said Whigham. "I couldn't add weight, I couldn't eat, I couldn't do anything. "
"It was an eating disorder where a muscle between my esophagus and stomach wasn't working properly," he continued. "Food would try to pass through and it wouldn't allow it to. I just threw it all back up and eventually stomach acid would come up.
"It was a painful experience."
Perseverance and a change of habit helped the South Florida standout overcome the disorder, lessons Wigham keeps up with a year later.
"It taught me how to eat right and really change my diet," he said. "Fried foods are no longer a part of my diet…I eat a lot better now.
"It has helped me add weight now, with the season over - all because of what I put in my body."
Then it was back to football.
"I really just pushed through and finally got through with the health issues and I set goals for myself to be one of the best players in the state," said Whigham. "I feel like I achieved that."
Simply achieving his goals may have been an under-statement, the Dwyer product crushed them.
Whigham took home the Sun-Sentinel Florida Defensive Player of the Year Award, finishing 2011 with 10 interceptions to go along with 60 tackles from his free safety spot while also contributing three punt returns for a touchdown. Dwyer High School, a power in the state of Florida, advanced to the state semi-final because of a top-notch defense headlined by Whigham and other BCS-bound prospects.
Fast-forward to February 1, the first day players are allowed to fax in letters of intent to play football, and the process is bitter-sweet on several levels for Whigham.
"It's been pretty crazy…we had a ceremony and I didn't expect that many people to be there," he said after signing. "My family and friends were there, it was just a crazy day."
The roaming safety could not have been happier to ink with the Orange as well, a program that reached out to him before the big boys swooped in late.
"I thought Syracuse was a perfect fit for me," said Whigham, who originally verbally committed to SU in July.
While at Syracuse, Whigham plans on majoring in journalism – something he is preparing for with AP classes at Dwyer. The chance to go to school and play at an institution like ‘Cuse made the decision to hold off Miami, Wisconsin, Boston College and others – an easy one.
"The big balance between academics and athletics that Syracuse provided," said Whigham when asked why it was the right fit. "I'm really excited to be a part of Newhouse as I said before, and I feel like I have a great opportunity to be a part of this football team and do something great – really to bring this program back to where it once was."
Whigham, who will begin his SU career as a cornerback, also has some plans to get back at some of the big guns and future ACC opponents who overlooked him when the Orange didn't.
So does he have a chip on his shoulder?
"Definitely, I wish they had come on [with interest] earlier but I understand why they didn't," he said. "I was kind of a risk at the time; I was a 155-pound kid and I didn't really have much of a junior year."
"But it's definitely going to be a lot of fun to get back down there and get back at some of the Florida schools that could have given me a chance."