For Christopher Witherspoon, it all unfolded some 12 years old.
At the tender age of four at the time, Witherspoon began a game of toss and catch with a water bottle, moments after a youth football practice.
Little did he know, arguably his grandest supporter was right there, observing his every move.
“I picked Chris up for a game and he had a water bottle throwing up in the air back and forth,” Lee Witherspoon told Sports Journalist Andre Johnson on Wednesday. “And when he came to the car, I asked him, ‘What you were doing?’ He said, ‘I was practicing on my catching the football.’ I knew then that was his first love as a sport.”
The rest, as, they say, was history.
Twelve years removed from that memorable dialogue with his father, Lee Witherspoon has gone to great length to ensure that his son thrives and excels in a sport that for him, essentially has become a way a life.
Today, with the continuous backing and tireless support of his family, Chris Witherspoon is making a strong case that he’s destined to put his immense football skills on display at the collegiate level.
A former Lausanne Collegiate School standout who was the catalyst of a Lynx team that advanced to the second round of the TSSAA Division 2-A playoffs last year and finished 8-4, Chris Witherspoon will be aiming to pick up where he left off this fall, this time when he suits up for perennial power Memphis Whitehaven.
A rising junior running back who stands at 5-foot-8 and weighs 180-pounds, Chris Witherspoon spent a majority of his stint at the private ranks assembling a solid resume in the backfield, considering Lausanne possessed an efficient rushing attack.
To his credit, all he did was prove that Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry has only reloaded his potent rushing attack, in large part because Chris Witherspoon’s 1,006 yards on the ground last year were tops on a Lausanne team that averaged 190.4 yards rushing per game.
“Coach Saulsberry is the greatest thing to happen to me and my son,” Lee Witherspoon said. “Coach said Chris is an outstanding player and student of the game. Chris was a Whitehaven kid anyway, even though I took him to another school. Coach Saulsberry welcomes us with open arms. We love coach Saulsberry and his staff.”
What’s even more astounding is that the Whitehaven community and residents in the surrounding Memphis-metropolitan area have thoroughly embraced the Witherspoons in recent years, most notably during what undoubtedly were the darkest days of their lives.
On December 19, 1997, Lee Witherspoon’s three daughters, Ashlee (three years old), and twins Asia and Aleecia Witherspoon (18 months at the time), were killed in a house fire in the Orange Mound community in Northeast Memphis, news that sent shock waves through the city and Mid-South.
According to Lee Witherspoon, such an occurrence was a devastating time for his family, which relied on its unyielding faith in God and support of the community to help them cope with such tragedies.
For Lee Witherspoon, so devastating were the deaths of his babies that he admittedly contemplated taking his own life.
“When it happened, Chris’ mother was pregnant with his brother, Lee III, and I had to drive his mother to the hospital,” Lee Witherspoon explained. “And me… I tried being strong for her and our child. But one night, I blamed myself (for the babies’ deaths) and tried to commit suicide. But God had another plan for us.”
Years removed from such a life-altering experience, Chris doesn’t shy away from the notion that he’s using football as an outset, of sorts, with regards to coping with life without his beloved sisters.
As he tells it, playing the game he loves, by all accounts, is his way of recalling and carrying out their legacies.
“I train all week with my coaches and my dad,” said Chris Witherspoon, who’s currently attending camps with several of his Whitehaven teammates. “I know the game and would like to know even more. I will spend the summer getting faster and stronger and smarter.”
As he readies for what figures to be a breakthrough junior season with a Tiger team that boast state championship aspirations, Chris is hopeful that scouts and recruiters will began placing him under their radar.
My long-term goal is to get a full ride (scholarship) to a major college to help my parents with tuition,” Chris Witherspoon said. “Coach Saulsberry has been an inspiration to me. Even though I’m a Whitehaven kid and my parents chose for me to go somewhere else in the ninth grade, he still welcomed me with open arms and me and my family love him for that.”
Especially his adorable little sisters, his biggest cheerleaders who undoubtedly will be cheering him on from heaven as he plays the game he loves in their memories.
This upcoming season and beyond.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a child or team that is seeking exposure and would like an in-depth sports news story, call Reporter Andre Johnson at 901-690-6587 or Facebook message him for details under “Andre T. Johnson.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.