Keith Grable has spent most of the last 20 years at Northern Colorado. After a playing career that included two national championships, the longtime Bears’ assistant coach has mentored record-setting UNC wide receivers like Patrick Walker, Andre Wilson and Dmitri Stimphill.
Grable isn’t sure he’s ever seen a player progress as consistently as Malcolm Whye.
“I remember him when he walked on and that kid, he works so hard and studies the game like nobody I’ve known,” Grable said in an interview in late July. “He has elevated his game literally every practice, each week, each semester, each year since he’s been here. It’s been amazing to watch. The great thing about him too is he does the same thing in the classroom. He just graduated with his undergrad. And he’s going to be getting his master’s degree this year. Unbelievable.”
Whye, a Northern Colorado senior wide receiver, has walked a path less traveled. After helping Denver-area powerhouse Mullen High to back-to-back state titles, the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder accepted a small scholarship to Division II Colorado State-Pueblo in 2011. He torn his ACL right after arriving on campus and decided to hang up his cleats.
He transferred to Northern Colorado strictly for academic reasons. Because of his and Mullen’s strong reputation, he got to know several players on the Northern Colorado team. By the spring of 2013, he decided to walk on to the Bears. He made the team as a slot receiver but he suffered a torn ligament in his knee again, causing him to redshirt during the 2013 campaign.
“Going through the injuries is tough on your state of mind,” Whye said. “It’s tough going through rehab every day knowing nothing is guaranteed, especially since I wasn’t recruited here. Nothing is guaranteed when you ask to walk on and you haven’t played in two years.”
Perseverance paid off for Whye. He returned to the Bears healthy last fall and earned a scholarship. By the end of the season, he was one of Northern Colorado’s go-to offensive options. He finished the season with 27 catches for 255 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s what you would want to have every college student athlete be,” UNC head coach Earnest Collins said. “He’s resilient in his work ethic. If he’s got a bump or bruise, he gets it fixed and doesn’t complain. He just continues to work. You start watching him, his hands, his routes and I realized he deserved a scholarship and deserves to be on the field. He has all the intangibles for what you want your players to be.”
Whye has honed his skills while honing his mentality. He’s expected to be a starter alongside junior Stephen Miller and senior Sean Leslie as Northern Colorado shifts a spread offensive attack. With Stimphill gone, Whye’s production should increase.
“What he does the best is he understands defenses and I think he’s really starting to understand leverage of the defense and he attacks that leverage,” Grable said. “He understands the voids in the defense and where he needs to get to. If it’s zone, he’s going to sit in the window. If it’s man, he’s going to keep running. He uses his hands well. His overall knowledge of the position has continued to improve.”
Through his trials, Whye’s reputation has risen in the UNC locker room. In July, Collins selected him as the Bears’ player representative at the Big Sky Kickoff media conference in Park City, Utah. Now this year he’ll be expected to be a leader on an offense that must find a way to replace Stimphill and departed quarterback Sean Rubalcaba.
“Malcolm works really hard and his heart is fully into the game,” senior quarterback Jon Newsom said. “He really has that passion, that desire to play well and be a leader on the team. He’s starting to become more of a vocal leader because of all of his play on the field and how hard he works in the weight room. He’s always there for everyone and he deserves everything he’s getting.”
Wins have been elusive during Whye’s time at UNC. As Collins enters his fifth season at the helm for his alma mater, he’s just 9-36. His squads have won just six Big Sky games. UNC was again picked to finish in the Big Sky cellar this season.
But Whye isn’t buying the notion and he’s trying to get his teammates on the same page as he enters his final season.
“It’s never been a question of talent,” Whye said. “We’ve always had some of the most talented players in the Big Sky I think. We just have to figure out how to put it together and win. If you don’t believe you can win in the league, it’s not going to happen.
“We are just trying to get this thing turned around in any way possible. They have the same mindset and they instill it in all the players. There’s a collective feeling around UNC and all the players that we want to turn this thing around. It’s been a culture change since we moved up from Division II. I’ve been studying business and one of the hardest things to do is to change the culture. And it takes years. So we are trying to get it done in any way possible.”
Photos courtesy of Northern Colorado Athletics. Head shot by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.