Columbus native Geoffrey Whiteside will have most of his family rooting for Navy on Saturday

The Baltimore Sun

With a six-year difference in age between the oldest and youngest of Larry and Melissa Whiteside's three children, the athletic competition among the siblings was intense growing up in Columbus, Ohio.

That was showcased the family's living room, where each of the children a place for their trophies and other mementos marking their achievements.

"As soon as Geoffrey was old enough to get trophies, he started counting, 'OK, I've got a few more, so I'm better than you,'" Brittney Whiteside, now 29 and the oldest of the three siblings, recalled earlier this week.

"To this day, honestly, we still argue about who the best athlete in the family is," added Brittney, a four-time all-conference basketball player at Wright State who played professionally in Germany.

Geoffrey Whiteside, now a 5-foot-9, 177-pound senior and a starting slotback at Navy, will get a chance to one-up his big sister on Saturday when the Midshipmen open the 2014 season against fifth-ranked Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium.

As a junior at Wright State in nearby Dayton, Brittney Whiteside's team was blown out by the Buckeyes on the day when she went over the 1,000-point mark. Her baby brother is not making a big deal about playing against the team he rooted for growing up.

"I'm going to try to focus in, like any other game, try not to make it too big of a stage for me, and just try to focus on my assignments," Geoffrey Whiteside said.

His sister and older brother Larry Jr. — who played golf at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, N.C. — have had an equally difficult task in the weeks leading into the game: trying to convert family members from Buckeye fans into Navy fans for Saturday.

With anywhere from two dozen to three dozen expected from Ohio, New York and New Jersey for this unofficial family reunion in Baltimore, there is only one holdout remaining.

"He's such a big Ohio State fan that he's saying, 'I just want to remain neutral'," Brittney Whiteside said of one of her uncles. "We've been able to persuade everyone else that if you want to remain a family member than you're not going to be on the fence for this game. Blood is thicker than water."

Even harder is trying to convince Buckeye fans who are not members of the family to root for the Midshipmen. Larry Whiteside Sr., who works as an adoption specialist, has the words "GO NAVY BEAT OHIO STATE" in bright red lettering on his computer screen.

"You do not believe the responses I get," he said. "Ohio State is a religion around here."

Whiteside Sr. has long had a sheet of paper on the wall next to his desk with Saturday's date and the words "The day I won't be a Buckeye fan" written on it.

The teams met in the 2009 opener, a game won by the Buckeyes, 31-27, in Columbus. Geoffrey Whiteside recalled watching that game on television in his home about 10 minutes from Ohio Stadium. Then a junior at Mifflin High, he might have been rooting for the Buckeyes if Navy hadn't started to recruit him.

"Navy kept taking it to them and kept grinding. I really liked that," Whiteside recalled.

Whiteside was second-team all-state in football as a senior and was a member of the state champion 4x100-meter relay team in track. But he wasn't big enough or fast enough to play for the Buckeyes.

Recruited by all three service academy schools and a few Football Championship Subdivision teams, Whiteside came to Navy, where he eventually worked his way onto the depth chart as a sophomore and into the starting lineup for seven games last season.

"He's just a grinder. He's a grinder in school, he's a grinder in everything," said longtime Navy slotbacks coach Danny O'Rourke. "Everything he's gotten, he's had to work for. He practices hard, he plays hard. Guys like that tend to find themselves in the right place at the right time."

In last year's season opener at Indiana, Whiteside rushed for a career-high 97 yards and also made a 24-yard reception. The next week, he scored two rushing touchdowns against Delaware. He has 474 career rushing yards on 65 careers — an average of 7.3 yards an attempt.

Whiteside might not be as fast as some of the Navy slotbacks who preceeded him — or current teammates DeBrandon Sanders and Demond Brown — but he is one of the most well-rounded to play the position.

"I definitely take pride in doing everything," Whiteside said.

It goes back to when he was growing up and trying to compete with his older brother, now 26, and his sister.

Beating his siblings is still part of the deal. When the family gathered in Columbus this summer to celebrate Brittney earning her master's degree, Larry Jr. and Geoffrey revived a childhood ritual.

"They still line up in the middle of the street and they footrace barefoot," Brittney Whiteside said. "It never stops."

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