Philyor learning to harness boundless energy

Before the Hoosiers get to watch toe-tapping sideline catches and tackle-breaking zips all over the field, they perceive Whop Philyor with a different sense.

They hear him.

“Talking, that’s just something we do in Florida,” said Whop, surrounded Monday by a herd of reporters, each of them eager to hear the next colorful soundbite to emerge from the Tampa native’s mind.

He put his right hand near his lips, emphasizing his next few words. “We use our mouths,” Whop continued, smiling.

It’s true. Just ask Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden, one of Whop’s prep teammates at Plant High. He’s known the 5-foot-11 slot receiver since sixth grade. Now he stands behind Whop in a pregame warmup line.

“Everybody’s excited for the game, but I don’t think anybody is quite as excited as Whop is. Just chirping,” Micah said, recalling the time Whop had a back-and-forth with Michigan State’s basketball team at Spartan Stadium.

“They were chirping at him the entire time, and he was chirping right back at ’em. It was honestly entertaining.”

That chatter is just the whirring engine of Whop’s inner drive. The louder he is, the more powerful he seems to become. Sometimes, his fuel can feed an entire team.

IU coach Tom Allen called Whop “the leader of the band” during last week’s win at Nebraska, hyping a squad that was already irritated by statements about the Cornhuskers’ storied program and the Hoosiers’ lack thereof.

Whop even brought a Chucky doll onto the field during pregame warmups, an odd twist only he could explain.

“Chucky’s a bad man,” Whop said of the red-haired, child-sized horror villain. “So we have to bring a bad man out, because we’re a bad football team.”

Whop does toe a line with his fun, boisterous spirit. As much as possible, the coaching staff embraces it. The closer he gets to the boundary between energetic and wild, the better he plays. But sometimes, Whop goes too far.

For instance, Chucky. “That won’t happen again,” IU receivers coach Grant Heard said. “If I see it, Chucky may be in the trash.”

There was also Whop’s reaction Saturday following a 23-yard catch on a third-and-12. He reflexively shot an impolite word at the Cornhuskers, resulting in a taunting penalty.

“Sometimes I just wish I had a muzzle,” Allen said postgame. “I was with him and I kept holding him, not going to let him get away until I got eye-to-eye, ‘Yes sir.’ He was hot. ‘But they’re doing this, they’re saying this.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what they call you.’

“But that just makes him special. You should have heard him before the game.”

Luckily for IU, Whop’s exuberance has given more than it has taken away.

Those lost 15 yards were overwhelmed by the 14 catches and 178 yards he gained in front of 90,000 screaming Nebraska fans. The Hoosiers got the last and most important word, walking out with a 38-31 win.

Whop has become an irrepressible force. After two seasons reduced by injury, Whop has more catches (57) and yards (737) through eight games than the rest of his IU career combined. He was just added to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver.

The hope is that his energies continue to point in the right direction. Monday, he was heaping praise on another Hoosier hero of recent weeks, IU’s backup quarterback, Peyton Ramsey. “Have you seen him?! He’s beautiful! If I was Peyton, I would be confident, too. He’s a pretty guy. He’s a poised guy. He’s locked in. We’re locked in.”

When the subject returned to Whop and his breakout season, he was suddenly less verbose.

“I just make plays for my team,” Whop said. “That’s all I’ve been doing all my life because I love winning.”

***

Plant coach Robert Weiner remembers a nervous energy flowing through the tunnel of the Citrus Bowl that day in December 2016. His Panthers, lined up two by two, were awaiting the start of Florida’s Class 7A title game.

“Nobody was saying anything,” Weiner said. “But there was this one voice you kept hearing. It was a voice that was almost childlike. It was a voice through tears, a voice through excitement.”

Whop was just letting everything out.

“It wasn’t really talking,” Weiner said. “It was just yelling out how much he loved everybody there.”

Few things in Whop’s mind are left unsaid. When he was the popular kid on a winning football team, he wasn’t afraid to swoon over his teammates.

Early in his career at Indiana, he wasn’t accustomed to losing close games. That led to a different kind of outburst toward his team.

“I’d just scream,” Whop said. “I’m a screamer.”

How he talks and leads is where the Hoosiers have seen Whop maturing, using his words in a more processed, selective way. It’s been a journey, though, because Whop — whose full name is Mister Elias De’Angelo Philyor — has always been a character.

Holley Mouling, his mother, hesitates to call Whop a “bad” kid. He just had a lot of energy. He was highly confident and social. He always wanted to do his own thing.

He took the nickname Whop because his dad would take him to Burger King and he always wanted a Whopper, or a “No. 1” — now his jersey number at IU.

The calories Whop took in, he burned.

“He always was the kid that wanted to stay outside the longest. We would have to find him in the neighborhood,” Holley said. “Once he got home from school, we knew he’d crash because he never stopped.”

He played outfield in baseball because he liked to run. He was a receiver in football. Of course, he also ran track.

“Ms. Holley, does Whop ever get tired?” asked Juwan Burgess, a current IU teammate, who was on the football and track teams at Plant.

“What do you mean?”

“Ms. Holley, we have to get ready for the 4×4,” answered Juwan, who was concerned because Whop wouldn’t stop running in the infield pre-race.

“Yeah,” Holley said, “he crashes once he gets in the car.”

Tirelessness on a playing field made Whop an immediate star. In his first JV football contest, it seemed like every play involving Whop and quarterback Dane Frantzen spilled over to Coach Weiner’s spot on the sideline.

“It was almost as if it was ‘Hey, coach, here we come. I hope you’re ready for us. We’re coming,’” Weiner said.

A star on the field became a sort of diva in the hallways. It took people like Napoleon Wade, an assistant principal at Plant High, to keep Whop in check.

Mr. Wade, like Whop, didn’t grow up in the best neighborhood. He observed Whop’s place in the ecosystem at Plant, a school located in an affluent neighborhood, mixed with students bussed in from less fortunate circumstances. It was fascinating to watch Whop straddle both worlds.

One day, Whop arrived to Plant wearing a tank top, shorts as short as the ‘80s exercise guru Richard Simmons, and tennis shoes.

“I was impressed because, at that age, they are conscious of how they are perceived by other boys. They don’t want to be seen as soft or a sissy,” Wade said. “He was so confident in the way he wore his clothes that not one boy teased him about how short his shorts were.”

At the same time, Mr. Wade didn’t allow Whop’s likability to get in the way of accountability. He could sense Whop enjoyed pushing boundaries, particularly with the dress code, wearing his pants so low the Tommy Hilfiger strap on his underwear showed. He was so popular, arriving late to class was a chronic issue.

Whop could see the fancy cars driven by the more well-off members of the student body. He dreamed of the NFL, and Mr. Wade understood and admired his ambition. But he didn’t want the stereotypical fantasies of a boy from the projects to completely shape Whop’s thinking, either.

“Have a Plan B,” Wade said.

He checked on Whop three or four times a week, telling him to pull up his pants. Take that hat off. Get to class. If he didn’t, there were consequences.

Weiner used Whop’s ambition to get the most out of him, too. Because he was so good on the field, Whop used to go through the motions in the weight room.

Plant’s coach knew pure talent wouldn’t get Whop as far as he wanted to go. It wouldn’t be enough for Florida’s prep football scene, either, where the level of athlete isn’t far removed from what Whop would eventually see on Saturdays.

And definitely not good enough for Sundays.

“You need to attack this weight room right now like you are working to be in the NFL,” Weiner said. “That’s what NFL dreamers do to get there.”

Things outside of Whop’s control took him off the field. Residency issues made him ineligible to play for parts of his sophomore and junior seasons.

Holley was living outside of the district, and Whop’s name wasn’t on the lease where he was living. Whop could practice, but he couldn’t play.

Sitting idle was hard on such an energetic kid. “He had jets in his shoes and he was ready to go, and we were trying to hold him at bay a little bit,” Weiner said.

Prolonged absences hurt Whop’s prospects as a college recruit. But, in a way, it may have been a good thing.

He had to think about life outside of football.

“What do you want your legacy to be?” Wade said. “Because if you leave here and you do become somebody, what do you want to be said about you?”

Whop finished high school on a stronger note, both on the field and in the hallways.

Mr. Wade didn’t have to correct him on as many silly, immature things his senior year. As a player, he finished with 91 receptions for 1,329 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016.

Weiner can’t remember a single play where Whop went backward, including one swing pass where the Panthers failed to block. He was blasted five yards into the backfield but somehow went forward for a hard-earned yard.

“Holy smokes, how did this guy keep his feet?” Weiner said. “He had this natural strength. It’s perseverance, his family and his upbringing, and just battling through things.”

Plant was undefeated leading into the Class 7A state title game but ran into powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, which claimed its 10th title. There was a sense of ease surrounding the loss because Plant truly felt it had done all it could.

“I’d ride with you guys wherever!” Weiner remembers Whop screaming before the game.

“I’d do anything for you!”

He’ll never forget that voice.

“He can create some energy where it’s focused into something deeply profound,” Weiner said. “And it’s that much more profound going onto that field.”

***

Tom Allen can look back on Whop’s day at Nebraska and see both his growth and what’s left to attain.

That taunting penalty? Unacceptable. Can’t happen.

But his energy coming onto the field, his toughness in between the lines, his fight for his team? A great example.

“Still not a final product yet,” Allen said. “I do know that one reason why I believe we got him here and he came to Indiana was because his mother believed that this was the best place for him to be developed as a man.

“Just to help him and his character and his leadership and his growth as a young man … knowing that he would be taught those things, not just run around and catch passes.”

It hasn’t been easy for Whop. He had knee issues early in his freshman campaign but came on late when the Hoosiers needed contributors. In his sophomore season, he hurt his ankle and his LCL and played just seven games.

Holley came to Indiana to see Whop through a surgery. In his hospital gown, seated in a wheelchair, he became emotional.

“We are pushing him out of the recovery room, and he’s crying boo boo tears,” Holley said. “Oh my god, his world stopped. Everything came to an end. … I had to remind him, when your blessings come, God will give you a test.

“You have to be tested on your faith. If this is something you really want, you are going to get it.”

Like his missed time at Plant, IU’s coaches wonder if giving their energizer bunny a moment to sit and reflect ended up making him a better player.

There was time to watch film without the pressure of performing on Saturdays. IU’s receivers coach, Grant Heard, doesn’t have to explain every nuance of a route concept anymore. He can just tell Whop to fix it, and he does.

Whop was also on the Hoosiers’ leadership council in the offseason, learning how to hold teammates accountable without raising his voice too much.

“He’s grown,” Heard said. “Every once and a while, he kind of goes back and I have to be like ‘Hey, don’t nobody know what you were talking about.’ But he’s aware of it, and he’s conscious of it, and he’s trying.

“As long as he keeps working, I think that’s what has made him a better player.”

Sans the Chucky doll and last week’s penalty, Heard likes what he’s seen from Whop this season.

Even his pregame chirpiness.

“He is a fiery guy, that’s his edge,” Heard said. “I don’t want him to be quiet, I don’t want him to be passive, because when he is, he’s not very good.”

This is just who Whop is.

“My belief in God, I trust God,” Whop said. “He gave me this confidence. So I use it.”

7 comments

  1. Great story, Jon.

    Reading between the lines I think I understand a little better why Tom Allen has been successful bringing in a better grade of talent. Some of these players need him as much, or more, than he needs the players.

    That is how it should be.

  2. I second your sentiments, Chet. The more I learn about the make up of this Hoosier football team and program, I’m that much more impressed with Tom Allen. I know he’s made his share of mistakes along the way (who among us wouldn’t have done so?), but he sure seems to have everything rolling in the right direction. He clearly relates well to his players and their families, and his messages coupled with actions (talking the talk and walking the walk) are obviously resonating throughout the team. I firmly believe he’s the right man for the job. I sure hope the IU Board of Trustees has the same belief and takes the steps necessary to keep the good man at IU. GO HOOSIERS!!

    1. Pac,
      I agree if we have in TA what we think we have in him, IU must do what is necessary to keep him long term. However, not just TA, but whatever personnel he believes he needs to maintain success.

  3. Chet very good post and I think you are absolutely right about why players come to IU under coach Allen. This story reminds me when I was coaching at Wayne HS my assistant coaches saying one meeting that I liked the players that were asses and I told them we needed those kids to teach them how to handle their exuberance and they were the players that win our games for us because they believe in themselves.

    Po, coach Allen would agree with you about mistakes made because he knows just like we do all of us make mistakes. I hope the board and AD do what is needed to keep coach Allen.

  4. Great story about an exciting young man. I loved watching TA, his his post-game press conference, describe his interaction with Philyor on the sidelines after he got flagged for taunting against NE. TA would not let go of Philyor until they were looking each other in the eye. I hope Philyor will some day look back on that moment and appreciate the love, understanding and commitment that his head coach demonstrated in that special moment.

    I believe that if Philyor stays healthy he will be a starting slot receiver in the NFL, and that we will look back and say, “what a great get for IU.”

    1. Make of this as you wish…good or bad…but Tom Allen turned away from the game for at least two plays to do his best to get this young man’s head where it needed to be.

      I don’t know if I have seen that before.

  5. I hope the conversation with Allen included the fact that no one, anywhere, even in Florida, ever caught a football with his mouth. IUFB is B1G last in fewest yds. penalized and 12th in fewest penalties.

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