Hometown love and self-motivation fuels Auburn’s Hailey Whitaker

When it came time to make a college choice, Birmingham, Alabama native Hailey Whitaker just had to look a couple of hours away as she decided to become an Auburn Tiger in 2018. While she may be slightly southeast of her hometown, Whitaker is proud to represent Birmingham and her home state on the soccer pitch. “My community that I came from is what makes Alabama so special,” Hailey explained to BGN. “I get support from old teachers, old coaches, parents and little kids that I don’t know personally, but they support me because I am from our small community. It makes me feel special, and it gives me even more motivation to play hard.”

“I want all of them to enjoy watching me play and to continue supporting me and cheering me on. I’d say what most people don’t know about Alabama is that Birmingham is an up and coming city. It is super nice, and I feel like everyone in Alabama should come visit because there are a lot of fun and cool things to do there!”

You don’t have to be from Alabama to know how big the rivalry is between Auburn and the University of Alabama. That’s why Whitaker’s performance last October vs. the Crimson Tide was a special one. She scored the opening goal and picked up two assists, including on the match-winner in extra time. “The Iron Bowl is always a huge, emotional and physical game. The rivalry is so strong, and it just gets you so pumped to get out there and want to help the team win,” she said. “The Iron Bowl last year was very special. It was like an out-of-body experience and didn’t even feel real at the time.”

“We all fought so hard for each other and it was a tough, high-scoring game. We are also currently on a long winning streak, and keeping the Iron Bowl trophy in Auburn also puts a little fire under us. War Eagle to that!”

After improving her production of goals and assists from her freshman to her sophomore season, Whitaker is ready to turn it up another notch as a junior in 2020. Hailey said, “I definitely have high expectations for myself this season. Not only am I getting older and I have the experience, but I have been using a lot of this time to become a student of the game.”

“I feel as though myself, and my team, have only been on the cusp of our potential and a lot of good things came out of being stuck in quarantine and being away from competing.”

As a student of the game, Whitaker has definitely selected a great pair of players as her favorites. “My favorite soccer players have to be Alex Morgan and Messi. I appreciate how clinical Alex Morgan is in front of the goal and when it comes to scoring goals. Messi will always be an all-time favorite. He is a dynamic player with effortless dribbling and foot skills, and he is so fun to watch.”

While those two are her favorites, is there a player that she models her game after or that resembles her skillset most? “I really don’t have someone specific that I try to model my game after,” she answered. “There is no one exactly like me, so every game I try to do everything I am good at and capable of, whether I am a forward or an attacking mid. Although, I do get ideas, inspiration, and motivation from watching good soccer players to help enhance my game.”

Whitaker committed the earlier months in 2020 to the mission of enhancing her game and improving individually. “I know for myself, I took those months to get more consistent with the little details like finishing, first touch, explosiveness, 1-v-1’s, and watching film of our past games and of other teams,” she said. “I feel sharp, and that gives me confidence going into the season, especially seeing how well myself and my teammates have been doing at practices so far. I am super excited to see what we can accomplish this season!”

Outside of the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the start to Auburn’s season, unrelenting racism in the United States has been on center stage in 2020. As a young Black woman, Hailey’s fed up. “Watching the racial turmoil go on in America is frustrating and very disheartening. No one should be treated differently based on their skin color, and there needs to be a change,” she said. “I want to say I am honored to be a part of a team that supports me no matter what and that we all can respect each other’s views and opinions even if they might differ from our own. Auburn Athletics has gone out of the way to make everyone feel heard, appreciated and respected, and that’s all I can ask for as a student-athlete.”

“I hope that when look back on my time here in Auburn, I can say with certainty that I used my platform to change the narrative and help create a more inclusive environment for black students and student-athletes for future generations.”

Whitaker and Auburn will be back in NCAA action on Tuesday vs. Ole Miss after a pair of postponements and a season-opening draw back in September. The match kicks off at 4 PM CT and will be live on the SEC Network.

Author

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.