When you talk about football ‘superfans’, many crazy stories come to mind, but former Troy University student – and teacher – Ben Whitehead chooses to share his fandom with his students in a positive way. .
Whitehead grew up in Headland and wasn’t initially a Trojan supporter at all. Troy fans shouldn’t pick up the pitchforks just yet, as he quickly switched allegiances.
“I grew up as an Alabama fan,” Whitehead says. “I didn’t go to my first (Troy) game until Jacksonville State’s last game (in 2001). I was crazy about it because it was Iron Bowl week and my dad was taking us to see Troy State.
“I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to Troy State!’ We went to have fun and then the next week we went to the North Texas game and after that it was pretty much a lock for me, we were still going to the Troy games.
In high school, Whitehead was already thinking about dating Troy, but the Missouri upset in 2004 was one of the reasons that stalled him.
“It was an insane game and we were already down 14-0 by the time we got there,” Whitehead recalled. “We’re going through Tailgate Terrace and I could see the scoreboard and I was like ‘We’re done’.
Then, finally, we had this legendary game with Junior (Louissaint) and everything changed. I had only been going (to the Troy games) for four years at that point, but I had never heard “The Vet” as loud as it was. I thought if that’s what it is now, imagine what it will be later. I was just addicted. Also, they told me that I could participate in games for free with my student ID, so I really had no other choice.
After graduating from Troy, Whitehead began writing for a local newspaper, but after his wife, Anna, became pregnant with their first child, he decided to turn to teaching for a more stable salary.
“I didn’t even want to go into education to begin with,” Whitehead pointed out. “We both decided to turn to education. I was still worried and nervous about it, but I walked into my first class and it completely blew my mind. I realized that’s actually what I’m supposed to do.
Whitehead began his teaching career in Florida and has taught at Rehobeth High School for five years. Whitehead’s Troy fandom spilled over into his class when he began decorating his class with Troy merchandise.
“It was thanks to (former Troy sporting director) Jeremy McClain,” Whitehead said. “He helped me get some posters of Troy to put in my room because I realized I didn’t have anything depicting Troy.”
Besides decorating his classroom with Troy gear, he had also started collecting mini Troy helmets. This hobby then grew by accident.
“I thought team pennants would be cool, so I started writing to schools asking if they would give away pennants for my class,” he recalls. “I don’t really remember what started, but I started asking schools if they had mini helmets to give away and it started to grow from there.”
Whitehead’s collection of mini helmets has grown from the four Troy mini helmets he owned to nearly 200 helmets representing football teams at all levels of competition. Whitehead loved football helmets and eventually this collection of mini helmets grew to include full size helmets as well.
“It all started with the idea that I just wanted full-size helmets from the schools I worked at,” he said. “I never really thought about it for colleges until I wrote to Nevada and their equipment manager said, ‘I’d love to help, but I don’t have mini helmets, would a full size helmet work?’
“From there, I thought a lot of these colleges needed to have their helmets reconditioned and if they couldn’t be used anymore, they were useless. So I decided to try contacting schools to see if they were willing to donate those helmets that they could no longer use.
Whitehead’s obsession with the helmet even led him to help design a new helmet for Montclair State University. During COVID-19, Whitehead started a Twitter thread showcasing his favorite helmet design from each FBS team. At that time, an assistant coach from Montclair State contacted him.
“I had never even heard of Montclair State in my life,” Whitehead said with a smile. “He said they were trying to revamp their helmets and get a new identity and he liked my style and wanted to know if I would help him with that.
“We exchanged messages and he sent me drawings and I sent him drawings that I thought of. I suggested a classic look with just their name and a single stripe on the helmet, similar to Southern Miss’s helmet and they went with it.
Despite the dozens of helmets lining his class, Whitehead said the one he hasn’t gotten his hands on is the one he wants the most.
“When it comes to helmets, my (holy) grail is to get a full-size Troy helmet,” he said. “That’s the only thing I haven’t figured out yet.”
His memories of Troy continued to swell along with his collection of helmets. Whitehead added many classic football programs to his collection as well as an actual Trojan doormat from the old Troy State Fieldhouse, given to him by the son of longtime Troy athletic trainer Chuck Ash.
Whitehead says he was able to acquire much of his memorabilia from Facebook Marketplace and EBay finds. He even got hold of programs from the 1948 Paper Bowl and national championship games from 1968 and 1987.
“My holy grail with programs is that I never even saw the 1984 program (national championship) and it’s my dream to get it,” Whitehead said.
While sharing his love for Troy and football helmets is part of the reason he decorated his classroom this way, he said it was also about making his students feel comfortable.
“The kids really enjoy it and my idea initially was to have something where the kids feel comfortable,” he pointed out. “One of my kids who just graduated sent me a message and said, ‘I just want to thank you for always giving us a place where we can feel comfortable and be ourselves- same.’ That’s the whole idea.
Returning to his Troy fandom, Whitehead said choosing the greatest player of all time for Troy would be like choosing which of his daughters, Katie Claire and Laura Beth, is his favorite. It just can’t be done.
“I can’t tell you who the GOAT is because it’s too difficult,” he continued. “I can, however, give you my Mount Rushmore of Troy. My top four Trojan players would be DeMarcus Ware, Sim Byrd, Jerrel Jernigan and Bear Woods.
“DeMarcus is probably the greatest Troy player of all time, but I think Carlton Martial is going to rise in that rung by the time he finishes this year. I really don’t think we’re talking about Troy from the same way we do now without Sim Byrd and all those guys from those late 1960s teams because they helped build such a good foundation Jernigan is still one of the best receivers I’ve ever seen him play. It was so fun to be at Troy at the same time as him because he on the attacking side of the ball was just electric. Bear didn’t have the stats that I think would be associated with a great player, but I don’t never seen anyone become the heart of a defense quite like him.