Considering his father's background, it would have been logical if Travis Whittaker had found a path to athletic success in track and field.

Long ago, however, the Gahanna Lincoln senior gravitated toward different sports venues, including the one the school track surrounds.

Whittaker, the son of longtime Lions girls track coach Roger Whittaker, is focused on football, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"My dad never really pushed me to do (track), so I've always done football," Whittaker said. "When I was young, I used to go to track meets with my dad like the Gahanna Relays and I watched them, but I never really got into track and was mostly just into football and basketball."

Whittaker has been one of the bright spots this season for a Gahanna football team that is 0-5 after a 37-6 loss to Westerville Central on Sept. 27.

The Lions open OCC-Ohio Division action Friday, Oct. 4, at home against Pickerington Central, which is 4-1 after beating Hilliard Davidson 28-7 on Sept. 27. They have lost 14 consecutive games to the Tigers.

Whittaker is in his third season as a key player in the defensive backfield, but also has become one of the team's top weapons offensively at running back this season.

He sat behind 2019 graduate Justus Harris at running back last season, contributing 262 yards rushing and three touchdowns, but opened this season by rushing for 154 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries in a 41-6 loss to Cincinnati Elder on Aug. 30.

On Sept. 20 in a 41-17 loss to New Albany, the 5-foot-9, 182-pound Whittaker rushed for a career high 220 yards on 23 carries and added two receptions.

Also the Lions' kicker, Whittaker made a 23-yard field goal against New Albany and is 7-for-9 in extra-point attempts this season.

He has rushed 80 times for 600 yards and three touchdowns and has 16 receptions for 151 yards and one score.

"Travis' growth and success have come because of all the intangibles he possesses, such as leadership, character, being a good teammate," coach Bruce Ward said. "Couple that with his talent of good vision, work ethic and his competitiveness on and off the field, he'll be successful at any level."

Whittaker played soccer for a short time when he was young but gained a passion for football when he was in fifth grade. He also was a key contributor for the boys basketball team last winter when the Lions went 15-9.

"We had a two-year starter at tailback (in Harris) the last couple years, so I knew he'd get the starting role, but I was No. 2 as a sophomore as well and knew eventually it would be my turn," Whittaker said. "Sophomore year, I played linebacker on varsity. I had been a defensive player and backup running back last year, but this year I've stepped up in a starting role and gained a lot of confidence."

Whittaker, who is a member of the National Honor Society and is considering studying broadcast journalism in college, has led an offense whose other key playmakers include senior quarterback Will Thomas and senior wide receiver Cam Morris.

Whittaker, who is hoping to play football in college, with Ball State and Ohio University among the school's he's interested in, is optimistic that the Lions can find more success after a rough start.

"Offensively, every game we're getting a little better," he said. "It's just tough right now because we've played such a hard schedule and we're trying to get that confidence going. We're coming together as a team. Overall, we're going to make a stand and we're going to make a run here."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek