Hampton senior tight end is the reel deal
Sunday, August 8, 2021 | 10:01 AM
Depending on the setting, Mike Witherup can catch a pass or catch a bass.
Witherup, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior tight end, is the Hampton’s second-leading returning receiver and an accomplished competitive bass fisherman.
He and his father, Darin, placed eighth out of 72 teams at the Fishers of Men Legacy Series National Championship on July 30-31 on Lake Wheeler in Decatur, Ala. Mike caught the biggest bass of the event, reeling in a 5.13-pound largemouth on Day 2.
The top 10 finish qualifies the Witherups for the Classic Team Series National Championships in March on Lake Eufaula in southeast Alabama.
“It’s a lot more than your average go out and fish from the bank and have a good time,” Mike Witherup said. “You’ve got to know how to read water, read water conditions, read weather conditions and be able to figure out where the fish are set up at.”
Witherup, who had four receptions for 55 yards last season as Hampton snapped a four-year WPIAL playoff drought, caught the fishing fever at a young age. He and his father were set up at Moraine State Park in Butler County when he felt a strong tug on his reel.
“A bass hit my line when I was fishing for blue gill,” he said. “That kind of got me started. I was 6 or 7 (years old). It made my day.”
When Witherup was in third grade, his dad purchased a boat suitable for competition and the pair started joining adult-juvenile bass fishing tournaments.
In their first event, the father-son team placed third at Sayers Dam at Bald Eagle State Park in DuBois.
They had some rough times along the way, but as they added more goodies to the boat — side scan and down imaging technology — along with more experience, they began to enjoy steady success.
“We had a bad year a few years back, where we wouldn’t even catch the limit in some of our tournaments,” Mike said. “Now we are pretty much having top 5 finishes every tournament.”
This summer, the pair won the Pennsylvania Central Legacy Division season point championship, placing third at Mosquito Lake in Cortland, Ohio, third at Shenango and second at Raystown Lake on July 10, where Mike caught a 5.27-pound largemouth, the day’s biggest bass.
His personal-best catch was a 5-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth bass while fishing for fun on Presque Isle Bay in May.
Witherup this summer also entered a Major League Fishing event as an individual, catching the limit and placing 60th out of 127 on the Phoenix Bass Fishing League circuit July 24 at Mosquito Lake, competing against pro and semi-pros.
“It was cool,” he said. “It was awesome getting to go out there and see what I could do against some professionals by myself.”
Witherup is entering only his third full season of organized football. He played a “couple games” as a 5-year-old for the Hampton Runts before trading in his cleats for ice skates.
“I liked hockey better,” he said.
But after suffering a shoulder injury playing travel hockey as a freshman, he decided to give football another try. He made the Hampton varsity roster as a sophomore and started a few games because of injuries.
“He ended up taking the job at the end of the year and improved a whole lot from in between sophomore and junior year,” said Hampton assistant coach Steve Sciullo, who works with the Talbots’ tight ends. “This offseason has been even better. He looks fantastic.”
Witherup was admittedly raw as a sophomore, playing organized football for the first time in a decade. Now, he says, “it feels more natural.”
He is expected to be one of Hampton quarterback Matt DeMatteo’s top targets this season as the Talbots eye a return to the WPIAL playoffs. Practice starts Aug. 16 in preparation for the 2021 opener Aug. 27 at Valley.
“It’s awesome to be able to look back and see how far I’ve come,” Witherup said. “It’s kind of cool to see progress.”
Witherup wants to fish competitively in college. He is hoping to attend Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., a two-time national champion in the Collegiate Bass Fishing Series.
DeMatteo, who is more of a self-described trout fisherman, fishes a lot on the Witherups’ boat on Lake Erie and has witnessed his teammate’s abilities in action.
“I’ll probably catch two or three,” DeMatteo said. “He catches 15 every time.”
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