BY ANNIE FOWLER, Tri-City Herald
Alshon Jeffery has played a big role in helping the Philadelphia Eagles to Sunday's Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots.
The 6-foot-3, 216-pound receiver caught five passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game against Minnesota two weeks ago, and had 789 yards on 57 receptions with nine touchdowns during the regular season.
Playing just as big a role in keeping Jeffery on the field is Richland trainer Steven Whitehead, who has spent the past 18 months helping the wide out revamp his workouts to stay healthy.
"His biggest issue was injuries," Whitehead said when he first met Jeffery. "He had been injured the better part of two years before I started working with him. I realized his body was out of alignment, which was causing soft tissue injuries in his calves, hamstrings and groin."
Whitehead had Jeffery healthy and ready to go for the 2016 season with the Chicago Bears, then he got hit with a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
During the off-season, Jeffery signed with the Eagles, giving second-year quarterback Carson Wentz another weapon. Jeffery signed a one-year deal worth $14 million. On Dec. 2, he signed a four-year extension worth $52, with $27 guaranteed.
"To be honest, I was not concerned about his stats," Whitehead said. "If he stayed healthy, the team would give him his money."
Cultivating a relationship
Whitehead first met Jeffery in the spring of 2016 through fellow trainer Jamal Liggin.
"He is my mentor," Whitehead said of Liggin. "He trains (New York Giants receiver) Odell Beckham and about 10 others. He was working with Odell and Alshon in L.A. that spring and he asked me to come down and help him. I worked with Alshon, then met up with him in twice in Florida."
After the season was over, Whitehead trained Jeffery from February to September in Philadelphia, North Dakota and South Carolina, where Jeffery is from.
"I just like the little things that he would critique," Jeffery told Eagles Wire in September. "He saw how certain injuries would happen and showed me certain things I needed to focus on. I am more in tune with my body and I know certain things I needed to fix and now stay on top of."
Whitehead and a couple of his trainers went to Jeffery's hometown of St. Matthews, S.C. (pop. 2,021), last summer to help him with a free youth football camp.
Jeffery's trust in Whitehead led him to bring him to North Dakota when the Eagles receivers spent a week working with Wentz. Whitehead worked with all of the receivers.
"He is not a diva receiver," Whitehead said. "He is the first guy to help his teammates. He was the biggest free agent they signed, and everything else fell into place. Being with him humbled me. It allowed me to see the NFL's business, to see where we can get next year is what we are going for."
Whitehead has been well-received by the Eagles training staff, and they work with him to keep Jeffery on the field.
"The Philadelphia strength and conditioning coaches were open to communicating with me, and we worked out a plan for him for the season. That had me most nervous at first, I didn't want to step on their toes. But they have been open and great to make sure he gets what he needs. I'm not medically certified, and a lot of teams wouldn't let you in the door, but we all want the same thing, which is to keep him healthy."
Coming full circle
Whitehead was an outstanding high school player, and went on to play at McNeese State in Louisiana, where he was a wide receiver. He was the Southland Conference Player of the Year in 2006.
He was injured in 2007 and received a medical hardship for another season. In 2009, the undersized (5-8, 175 pounds) Whitehead went to the New Orleans Saints mini camp.
His football career led him to the Tri-Cities, where he played for the Tri-Cities Fever for four seasons.
A native of Louisiana, Whitehead opened Elite Ambitions Training in 2012, and since has been a place for young athletes to grow and for adults to stay in shape.
"I feel I have come full circle," he said. "To have a part in someone's career is special. Alshon isn't a guy who speaks much, but when he does, it's 'I need you to come out.' And I do. I have been with him a year and a half, and that speaks for itself."