ABILENE — Nobody told Cody Whitehair that life in the National Football League would be a snap, and yet three years into his professional career, that’s literally part of his job description.
“The first time I actually snapped a ball in a game was in the NFL,” said Whitehair, the former Kansas State and Abilene High School standout and current Pro Bowl center for the Chicago Bears. “That’s pretty crazy actually, that I’m a starting center now in the National Football League, a position I never played growing up.”
Whitehair was back in his hometown over the weekend for his father Kevin’s wedding, but also took timeout for a photo and autograph session Saturday morning at Holm Automotive.
“I try to get back here a little bit to see family when I can,” Whitehair said while also visiting with fans and signing everything from footballs, jerseys and hats to even the cover of a little girl’s Harry Potter book. “But this is my first real engagement in partnership with Tim (Holm) and Holm Automotive here and I’m really excited about it.
“I did a little bit of speaking to their management group (Friday) and then this today, and then we’re going to do some more work the rest of the offseason. We’re really excited to work with them and get back to my community here in Abilene.”
But back to the NFL, where after starting for four years at K-State — he played guard his first two seasons and tackle the last two — he was drafted in the second round by the Bears in 2016.
“I was drafted to play guard, and then due to some injuries and due to some certain things I was asked to move to center,” Whitehair said. “It was really a challenge at first, but I embraced the challenge, had good people around me to help me with the transition and it’s worked out pretty well for me.
“I’m really excited. I’ve established myself as a center in this league now and I’m excited to see what the future brings.”
Whitehair was penciled in as a starter for the Bears from the start, but as a guard. That he quickly, if not quite seamlessly, was able to master the center position was a testament to his versatility and adaptability.
“I think versatility is big in the NFL,” said Whitehair, whose previous experience at center was limited to a few practice snaps in the Senior Bowl following his college career. “Being able to play all the inside positions right now is big for me, especially when you’re suiting up seven guys, due to injuries and stuff.
“That’s one thing that K-State kind of helped me with. They kind of preached that the more you can do, that definitely helps you out, and I was very prepared for the situation.”
Not that it was all fun and games at first. Center requires a variety of skills that maybe the other positions along the line do not.
“It’s definitely a leadership position, yet also being able to get the ball to the quarterback to start the play and still be able to block,” said Whitehair, who went on to make the all-rookie team in 2016. “That’s definitely a challenge as well, but that’s a little bit of adversity I had, snapping the ball at first.
“I think we’re past that now and looking forward to it. I actually adopted a new snap technique and it’s worked out for me.”
Pretty much everything worked out this past season for Whitehair, who made his first Pro Bowl appearance after helping the Bears to a 12-4 record and their first NFC North Division title and playoff appearance since 2010.
They suffered a heartbreaking 16-15 playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on a last-second missed field goal, but Whitehair remains optimistic about the Bears’ future under Matt Nagy, who received 2018 coach of the year honors after his first season.
“We were really excited when we heard he was going to be our head coach,” Whitehair said of Nagy, the former offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. “He brought a great staff with him and he’s a very high-character guy.
“He’s very positive and optimistic, and that’s a great outlook on things.”
Whitehair and Hannah, his wife of three years, also are happy living in Chicago area, though hopes to make it home to Abilene more often in the future.
“We love the city and we love the fans, and the Bears organization is great,” he said. “But any time I can get back here and get in my community and seeing kids and seeing people, that’s always good.”