Our latest Gameday magazine cover story focused on Cleveland natives Ted Ginn Jr. and Donte Whitner, who both served as key contributors in the 49ers 20-10 win over their once beloved Cleveland Browns.
The cover image, snapped by team photographer Terrell Lloyd and enhanced by team graphic designer Ben Mayberry, further demonstrates the friendship between the two players. Both Ginn and Whitner attended the same high school, college and have now been reunited with the 49ers.
Find out more about their unique relationship by reading the latest cover story.
Through the Ranks
Two Cleveland natives on the 49ers roster have been teammates for longer than you’d expect.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
Laborious days are nothing new to Ted Ginn Jr. and Donte Whitner. The two difference-makers, among many in San Francisco’s 5-1 start, developed strong work ethic at a young age. It began from their days as teammates at Cleveland’s Glenville High School, which then carried over into their college years at THE Ohio State University (as both proud Ohioans would likely want you to pronounce) and once more as rivals to start their NFL careers in the AFC East. Both Ginn and Whitner grew up in the same neighborhood in Eastern Cleveland and have always considered the other to be a brother. The bond also extends to their families, who still attend the same church in Ohio. Furthermore, their children play together and their daughters are best friends. Of course, they have funny stories about each other, but will always stress the dedication the other has made to get to where they are. Perhaps the best tale of all is how the two have been reunited with the San Francisco 49ers, aiding in the team’s stretch of four straight victories. “It’s great to have a childhood friend like that, come up, and play in the National Football League with you,” says Ginn. “You don’t really see that.”
For both Ginn and Whitner, the recent success is a tribute to their respect for a hard day’s work. Ginn and Whitner learned those values from their high school football coach, Ginn’s father, Ted Sr., who would routinely take them to a personal trainer after intense practices. Back then and today, the duo have demonstrated their unyielding dedication to becoming elite athletes. And still, they continue to put forth the same commitment toward their craft, while leaning on the other for support. For both Cleveland natives, life has always been about working to reach their full potential, that, and a true love for athletic competition.
But as big as the stage is they currently play on, both remain humble. To you, they’re Ted Ginn Jr. and Donte Whitner. But to each other, they’re “Teddy” and “‘Te.” The two have been close since the age of 9 and can vividly recount battles as 14-year-olds playing in Cleveland’s Municipal Football League. Whitner, younger by three months and 12 days, has actually acted as a big brother to Ginn and seemingly knows him all too well, even his diet habits. Whitner couldn’t contain himself from recounting Ginn’s fondness for sweets. “At Glenville, Teddy would have the biggest bag of candy in his girdle out at practice,” recalls Whitner, a hard-hitting safety, who signed a three-year contract with the 49ers this offseason to join his close friend, who was acquired via trade two offseasons ago. “We always knew Teddy would have candy in his girdle, which is kinda nasty, too. But he didn’t care. He would reach into his pants, snack on some candy, then go about his business.” Ginn would even have candy jiggling in his pockets while warming up in the layup line for high school basketball games. Both can laugh about it now, because as Whitner says about his close friend, “This guy can eat McDonald’s and candy all day long and still be the fastest guy around.”
Ginn’s speed is well-known, but his creativity on the football field is far less talked about. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound wideout, who runs by defenders at blistering speeds, will run 30 yards sideways if he thinks it’ll help him pick up extra yardage for his team. Whether it’s on a wide receiver reverse or on punt and kickoff returns, Ginn’s imagination in the open field is captivating. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks, who gave up two return touchdowns to Ginn in the 2011 season opener. In doing so, Ginn became the first 49ers player to register punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns in the same game. His 268 return yards were the most in a single game in franchise history, too. Ginn has since taken off from that performance, averaging career highs in punt return average (13.7) and kickoff return average (31.8). That’s coming in a year where the NFL has changed its kickoff rules, forcing Ginn to typically field kickoffs deep in his own end zone.
Big plays, however, are nothing new to Ginn. He has always been a feared player. But as Ginn would tell you, Whitner had much to do with his success, almost as much as his father. With Glenville known for producing Division-I football players, Ginn’s quest for success grew tremendously when Whitner received his first letter from a major college football program. Whitner, a year older in school, was considered to be the leader on the Tarblooders football team. So when Whitner received attention from big-name programs, the younger players like Ginn matched his effort in everything. “Once he figured he could go to Ohio State, Donte changed into a whole different person,” recalls Ginn. “That was just real. He made us want to do the extra mile – the extra stuff that kids don’t do.”
The aspiring athletes’ high school memories were quite different than most other teenagers’ recollections. Back then, they would wake up at 5 in the morning, go to school, go to track/basketball/football practice and then go work out with an athletic trainer. “We had some long days,” says Ginn. Everything they did, however, was done with a purpose. Every protein shake they drank, social gathering they couldn’t attend, or early morning weight lifting session was done for a reason. “That’s how we lived,” says Whitner. “Ted Sr. had the vision for us and we understood that we had to listen to him if we wanted to get where we were going. It really all started with his dad keeping us on the right path.” Whitner relied on Ted Sr.’s guidance. His father was in jail growing up and he’s just now mending the relationship. But when Whitner received those college letters, it brought on harder work. “It’s really a big accomplishment,” says Whitner. “Once I received my letters and Ohio State, I understood it was a great possibility I could be successful, follow my dreams and continue to play football.”
Whitner became a contributor to the Buckeyes football team first, and was followed by Ginn a year later. “Donte helped me walk into that building and be comfortable,” says Ginn. “He made me feel like I was at home.” Current teammate Braylon Edwards, a Michigan alum, remembers his on-field encounters with both players. He’s certainly glad he has the talented players on his side these days. “It’s about time,” jokes Edwards, who recalls struggling to chase down Ginn on a punt return for a touchdown and also trash-talking with Whitner, who he once hosted on a recruiting trip. “I got tired of trying to block Donte and chasing down Ted,” jokes Edwards. Both players contributed to successful Ohio State teams, but eventually separated soon after.
As fate would have it, they didn’t go too far. Both Ginn and Whitner wound up as rivals in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, respectively. On Sundays, however, the brotherhood shared for so many years went out the window. Ginn even remembers a minor argument that was shared after an open-field tackle Whitner put on Ginn. “He lightweight rocked me and gave me a good shot,” admits Ginn. “I got up and started talking junk to ‘Te. He looked at me like, ‘Are you for real bro?’” The in-game banter caught Whitner off-guard, but like many of their memorable exchanges from over the years, they can laugh about it now. It all serves as a reminder of what they’ve accomplished.
Considering the rough neighborhood they came from, both take extreme satisfaction from their achievements. “I really have a lot of pride coming from Cleveland, and that I was able be an example for so many people,” says Whitner, a 5-foot-10, 208-pound fifth-year veteran, who has recorded more than 100 tackles three times in his career, including 140 with the Bills last season. With the 49ers, Whitner has totaled 29 tackles, five pass breakups and one interception for the league’s 11th-ranked defense.
Buffalo’s No. 8 overall pick in 2006 was selected one slot and one year before Ginn, who was drafted by the Dolphins. And ever since, Whitner has continued his reputation of being a player who loves to work. In fact, Whitner let the world know his passion through social media, recently posting a single statement on Twitter: “I just wanna work.” Asked about the declaration, Whitner said there wasn’t much to it. “The, ‘I just wanna work’ mentality, is from understanding what it takes to be successful. In order to be successful, you first have to love the game, first and foremost. If you don’t love the game, no matter how much work you put into it, if you feel like it’s always a labor to put that extra work in, you won’t get the results you expect.” When Whitner puts out a proclamation like that, it highlights his passion for football and his quest to get results. “I want to enjoy working. I want to push the love that I have for the game out to other things, like if it’s catching footballs after practice, watching a little extra film when I get home, watching film during my (lunch) break at the facility, or staying 30 minutes extra or getting to the facility 30 minutes early. All those things go into the success that you have on gameday, and ultimately, team success.”
The strong work habits formed in Cleveland will fittingly be on display Sunday at Candlestick Park, when both take on their beloved childhood team, the Cleveland Browns. Ginn remembers playing during halftime at a Browns game growing up. As for Whitner, he was swayed to root for Cleveland because of his uncles. But these days, both Ohioans support the red and gold of the 49ers. Whitner is especially excited about the strides being taken so far, and has enjoyed being with Ginn, his head coach and the rest of his teammates. “It’s not too often you get an opportunity to play for a head coach like this and start off the way we’ve started off,” says Whitner. “I have fun being around all the guys. I expect for us to be very successful, because we all enjoy each other. Whenever you enjoy the guy’s that you’re working with, it makes it that much easier. It makes you want to play that much harder for the guys next to you.”
Cleveland week for the Cleveland natives might bring on more ticket requests than usual; Ginn expects the duo to acquire 50 seats or so for friends and family, but it won’t change their goals for Sunday. “It’s going to be live just because it’s our home city,” admits Ginn. “It’s going to mean a lot, but we’re going to go out there and ball like it’s a regular week. That’s all you can really do.” Consider it as just the latest hard day’s worth of work for the duo.
Tags: Donte Whitner, Ted Ginn Jr.
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