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James Whalen Named Kentucky’s SEC Football Legend

Former walk-on set an NCAA record for most catches by a tight end in a season in 1999

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Former University of Kentucky football tight end James Whalen has been named a 2016 Southeastern Conference Legend for excelling on the gridiron after a true storybook rags-to-riches collegiate career.

Whalen, originally from Portland, Ore., came to Kentucky as a walk-on after playing his freshman season at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. After his family moved to Walton, Ky., because of a job transfer, James decided to transfer. Armed with a highlight tape made by his mother, James visited then-new coach Hal Mumme in the summer of 1997 and asked to tryout as a walk-on. The rest is history.

Whalen came from the depths of obscurity to emerge as UK’s go-to receiver. In three seasons, which included appearances in the Outback Bowl and Music City Bowl, he played in 33 career games with 13 starting assignments and earned first-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation, Associated Press, CNN/SI and CBS SportsLine in 1999. As a senior, he caught 90 passes for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading the nation’s tight ends in all three categories while setting an NCAA record for most catches by a tight end in a season. He also was a consensus first-team All-SEC selection and was second-team All-America by Football News and third-team All-America by The Sporting News. He was selected by Tampa Bay in the fifth round of the 2000 National Football League draft and went on to play four years in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys.

Whalen graduated from Kentucky with a degree in research communication and currently lives in Aledo, Texas near Fort Worth with his wife, Dannielle, and two children, Whitney and William.

This year’s class includes a Heisman Trophy winner, All-Americans, All-SEC selections and Academic All-Americans as well as NCAA and SEC record holders.  The group represents teams that won National and SEC Championships and are represented in state, school and college football halls of fame.

The class will be honored at the 2016 SEC Football “Weekend of Champions” Dec. 2-3 in Atlanta, Ga.  The annual SEC Legends Dinner presented by AT&T will be held Dec. 2 at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta and the group will also be recognized prior to the SEC Football Championship Game, which will be held at the Georgia Dome on Sat., Dec. 3.

Video of Whalen during his UK career can be found here.


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