To get faster, Larry Whitner first had to slow down.
The second-year defensive back for the Erie Community College football program spent the offseason working on his technique so the plays could unfold in front of him more slowly even while his speed had increased. So far, his work has paid off as Whitner has caught the eye of the coaching staff as one of the most improved returning Kats this season.
"He's completely different. He spot-played last year, didn't get a lot of playing time," coach Dennis Greene said. "But this year, he's smart and gets us lined up. He's breaking on the ball. He's always around the ball. If he's not knocking it down, he's picking it off. He had a decent spring ball, too. He caught my attention at spring ball and he's come back as a leader."
What's the difference for Whitner?
"The game moves a lot, lot slower from when I first got here," Whitner said. "The game is coming to me better and it's just great."
How did he achieve that? With a steady diet of hard work and training with players at a higher level, forcing him to get better.
"My main focus was on getting my backpedal stronger," Whitner said. "So what I did was over the summer I went to the trainer and did a lot of running, a lot of workouts. And also my cousin [Donte Whitner] plays for the Buffalo Bills and I did lots of workouts with him. In the summer, I just worked hard and with some experienced NFL players to get some of my techniques better. I also brought some of my teammates along with me so they could get better."
Sharing the experience has been a key component to the talent depth for the Kats this year. As Whitner brought his teammates to workouts with NFL players, everyone around him started to get better. The result -- more competition in practice with each person on the depth chart pushing the one above him.
From the players' standpoint, the increased competition has been welcomed.
"The competition out here is looking pretty good," Whitner said. "I like the competition because it makes me work harder and it also makes the rest of the team work harder. With that competition it's just making us better and pushing us to be great."
For Greene, it's not just the depth of talent that has him excited for the season, although that's a big part of the annual preseason optimism. Along with the competition has been the healthy attitude of players who understand that as each person gets better so does the team and that, hopefully, will translate into wins.
While last year's 4-6 overall mark, 2-3 in the Northeast Football Conference, wasn't up to the Kats' standards, three of those losses were by three points or fewer.
"We weren't together where we could get by those close games," Greene said. "The teams that are so close and they buy in and they believe in themselves, those close games they find a way to win. Last year, we didn't have that. This year's team, I think we're closer. I don't think we have the 'I' guys we did last year who were in it only for themselves and not for the team."
Key returnees include second-team All-NFC selections Zedric Joseph (RB, 194 yards, three touchdowns) and Rashad Payne (DB, 32 tackles, six interceptions), along with Malcolm Ricks (LB, 43 tackles, five sacks) and Terrance Powell (OL).