No one could have blamed Steve Whiting for giving up, going into hiding, turning his back on the world that had struck him a cruel and unfair blow at such a young age.
When he was 11, Whiting's father, Wayne, died of cancer. He and his half-brother moved to Virginia with their mother Kristene and then two years later when Steve was 13, the three were in a car accident. Whiting still has scars on his elbow from the crash. His brother, Christopher — who is one year older and now lives in Owings Mills with his father — was left almost unscathed.
"It looked like a cat scratched his arm," Steve Whiting remembers.
But their mother lost her life as a result of the accident, and Whiting had both of his parents taken away in a span of about three years.
"I miss them all of the time," said Whiting, who now lives with his aunt, Mayb Sersland, in Columbia. "There's really nothing to compare it to. I don't know if you ever really recover, but you've just got to live life knowing that something can happen any day and you've just got to move on. I just like to live life positive and happy."
It helps that Whiting's aunt has become like a mother, and his cousin, 15-year-old Tylyn, like a little sister.
"My cousin's grandparents have become my grandparents," he said. "They're all good people."
And another thing that keeps Whiting, the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times defensive Player of the Year, happy and active is the game of football.
"Having been around him as much as I have you wouldn't know (what he'd been through) unless someone told you the story," Atholton coach Kyle Schmitt said. "Because he has such a great, positive outlook … he brings a lot of energy and this year he became more of a leader too."
Whiting first started playing football at the age of seven and it wasn't long before he outgrew the instructional level.
"My mom didn't want me playing flag football, she wanted me to have more contact," he said. "She thought flag football was boring. I was a big kid even when I was little and she wanted me and my brother on the same team."
In the eighth grade, after moving to Maryland, he began playing with the Howard County Bruins unlimited weight football team that finished as state runners-up.
"That's when I really got into it. When you're winning it's a lot more fun," he said.
And when he got to Atholton, the winning — and the fun — continued.
Whiting started on varsity as a sophomore and led the team with 86 tackles. That year, the same that Schmitt arrived, the Raiders finished 10-2 overall, just one year removed from a three-win campaign.
Atholton stumbled out of the gates in 2010, losing two of its first four games, but went on to win six in a row after that, including the school's first win over River Hill, which ended a 49-game league winning streak for the Hawks.
The Raiders made the playoffs for the second straight year but lost to eventual state champion Wilde Lake in the opening round. Whiting had 72 tackles and earned second team all-county honors that year.
"The best compliment that I can give Steve is that I would have to stand behind the line in scout team drills and ask him to slow down, or I'd have to take him out. You just couldn't run plays with him in there because he's so fast and he wreaks so much havoc," Schmitt said of his defensive tackle. "He's a great football player, he's tough as nails. For the last three years he's been our best defensive player."
This year, with plenty of returning talent and a senior class hungry to take the next step, Atholton seemed ready to go all the way. After sustaining a loss in week one as punishment for an accidental offseason practice violation, the Raiders played some of the best football the county has ever seen.
In 2011, Atholton outscored opponents, 438-76. The defense, led by the 240-pound Whiting and his career-high 11 sacks, earned six shutouts, including one over arch rival River Hill. In that game, Whiting had two sacks and broke up three passes.