Daniel Whelan didn’t play football in 2014. He was a rising star on the Rancho Mirage High School tennis team. In March, during the De Anza League championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Whelan told his coach, Owen McIntosh, that he would like to play football for the Rattlers in the fall. McIntosh saw him as a future tennis standout and figured football might limit what he could do on the tennis court.
As it turns out, Whelan knew what he was doing.
Whelan was named the De Anza League Special Teams Player of the Year this week, after he helped lead the Rattlers to a 9-3 record and a second-place finish in the league football standings, behind Twentynine Palms. Wildcats quarterback Jimmy Shragge was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Twentynine Palms lineman Andrew Wilson earned Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Shragge led Twentynine Palms to 11 wins, passing for 2,141 yards and 32 touchdowns versus just four interceptions. He also ran for seven scores. Wilson made 69 tackles, including 13 for loss, and compiled seven sacks.
Whelan’s play, however, may have been the most surprising. In his first year as a kicker, he compiled 53 touchbacks on 64 kickoffs, made 42 of 43 point-after attempts, and nailed 12-of-20 field goals, with a long of 52. The majority of his eight missed field goals were on attempts of 45 yards or more.
As a punter, the 6-foot-4 Whelan booted 11 of his 37 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line, with an average 38.9 yards per punt.
“People don’t understand how valuable it is to have a kicker like Daniel,” head football coach L.D. Matthews said. “To force opponents to start at their own 20 is huge, and to have a kid who can score from 40-50 yards out is really an advantage.”
Whelan, a junior, continued playing in some tennis tournaments during football season, and McIntosh believes he can be a dual-sport star if he chooses.
“He’s a great athlete, and he has very good size and can really hit the ball with power,” McIntosh said. “I fully believe that if he focuses for the next two years, he could be a Division I tennis player. I hope he continues to have passion to play with the success he’s had in football.”
Offensive player of the year: Jimmy Shragge, sr., QB, Twentynine Palms
Defensive player of the year: Andrew Wilson, sr., DL, Twentynine Palms
Special Teams player of the year: Daniel Whelan, jr., Rancho Mirage
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
Twentyine Palms: Jimmy Shragge, sr.; Beayahn Carrllo, sr.; Demetrius Holmes, sr.
Rancho Mirage: Marques Prior, soph.; Jonny Avila, jr.
Desert Hot Springs: Jahi Martindale, sr.; William Watson, sr.; Jorge Cesena, sr.; Andrew Moreno, sr.
Shadow Hills: Tony Williams, Jr., sr.; T.J. Lew, jr.
Yucca Valley: Sean Wallace, sr.; Travis Shartel, jr.
Desert Mirage: Froilan Rodriguez, jr.; Jesus Angel, sr.; Melvin Harmon, sr.
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
Twentyine Palms: Andrew Wilson, sr.; Donovan Esquilin, sr.; Colton Myers, sr.; Kyle Hope, sr.; Shane Estrada, sr.
Rancho Mirage: David Mares, sr.; Travis O’Brien, jr.; Steven Knight, sr.
Shadow Hills: Rob Lares, sr.; Derwin Johnson, sr.
Yucca Valley: Jared Nutter, jr.
Big Bear: Andres Sanchez, sr.; Chuy Castro, soph.; Tyler Saderup, sr.
SECOND TEAM OFFENSE
Twentyine Palms: Eric Gordon, sr.; Nicolas Folts, sr.
Rancho Mirage: Kyle Whitefield, jr.; Daryn Evans, sr.
Desert Hot Springs: Markese Denmon, sr.; Alex Moreno, sr.
Shadow Hills: Israel Durant, sr.; Isaac Gutierrez, sr.
Yucca Valley: Jake Moore, jr.
Big Bear: Riley Ardigo, sr.; Luis Reza, jr.; Bruno Mendez, sr.
Desert Mirage: Sergio Lopez, sr.; Manuel Alejo, sr.
SECOND TEAM DEFENSE
Twentyine Palms: Trevaun Morrow, sr.; Cole Green, sr.; Enliko Tuli, jr.; Michael Clark, jr.
Rancho Mirage: Josh Ramirez, jr.; Felipe Sandoval, jr.; Sergio Julian, sr.
Desert Hot Springs: Miguel Gutierrez, sr.; Nathan Ongalibang, jr.
Shadow Hills: Sammy Venegas, jr.; Kevin Munoz, sr.
Yucca Valley: Noah Rodriguez, jr.; Ilan Kakalia, sr.
Desert Mirage: Jamie Serrano, jr.
Twentyine Palms: Derek Sutherland, jr.
Rancho Mirage: Charles Murrell, sr.
Desert Hot Springs: Mario Lopez, sr.
Shadow Hills: Jason Lang, soph.
Yucca Valley: Thomas Geiger, sr.
Big Bear: Angel Licona, jr.
Desert Mirage: Eric Garcia, sr.