Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside went from world-traveler to go-to receiver

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Author: Tom FitzGerald

Jose Joaquin Arcega-Whiteside was born in Spain and had visited five European countries by the time he was 10 months old, eight by the time he was 2 years old.

No wonder “JJ,” as he has been known as he arrived in America at age 7, is majoring in international relations at Stanford, where the 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore also is building a reputation for making extraordinary catches on the football team .

Both his parents were professional basketball players in Europe. His mother, Valerie Whiteside, was an All-American at Appalachian State, where she set 26 school records and had her jersey number retired. His father, Joaquin Arcega, played many years in Europe. Two of Joaquin’s brothers played for Spain in the 1984 Olympics.

Joaquin and Valerie met when both played for a club in A Coruña, Spain, and got married.

When J.J. was 8 months old, they moved to Portugal, where school starts at age 3. By then, J.J. was already a fixture on the bench for whatever team his mom was playing for. “Everybody was in love with J.J.,” Valerie said. “There were 11 girls on my team, and they all thought they were his momma.”

When Valerie got elbowed in the paint during a game in Santerem, Portugal, he ran 20 feet onto the court to complain about the rough treatment she was getting, forcing a stoppage in play. Another time, I picked up a white board and scribbled a play for the team to run. He said, “Ball goes here, then here, then to momma.”

“He got that part right,” she said with a laugh during a phone interview with The Chronicle.

There were times when neither parent knew what he was saying. They spoke English and Spanish, and he was speaking Portuguese. He was known as “Jota-Jota” (jota is Spanish for “J”) when he was in Europe.

Living mainly in high-rise apartment buildings in European cities, his parents would have to travel several blocks to a park so J.J. could play outside. They wanted a better life for him, so they left Europe and moved to Valerie’s hometown of Inman, S.C., when he was 7.

J.J. was already “a beast in soccer,” she said, and he excelled at track and basketball in the U.S. He became a beast in football, too. As a freshman at Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C., he made his varsity debut in a playoff game and caught a 65-yard touchdown pass.

“He owns all the receiving records at the school,” Dorman head coach David Gutshall said. “If he hadn’t broken his collarbone his sophomore year, the records would be hard for anybody to match.”

During his junior year, Dorman trailed Hillcrest-Simpsonville by five points with 10 seconds left when Gutshall called for a pass to Arcega-Whiteside in the corner of the end zone.

The quarterback asked, “What if he’s double-covered?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Gutshall said. “Throw it to J.J.”

Instead, he was triple-covered. “From the sideline,” Gutshall said, “all I could see was one hand go up and get it. I have made the game-winning touchdown. “

375x250 (1)As a senior, I caught a school-record 108 passes for 1,824 yards and 20 touchdowns and was South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

Dorman produced two wide receivers who went to Clemson and to the NFL, Charone Peake with the Jets and Adam Humphries with the Buccaneers. But the receiver Arcega-Whiteside most admired was Steve Smith, the longtime Carolina Panthers tar who retired this year. Arcega-Whiteside loved watching the 5-9 receiver outleap taller defenders for the ball.

The Panthers trained in nearby Spartanburg, and Arcega-Whiteside frequently went to their practices so he could watch Smith. His high school team took part in a 7-on-7 camp hosted by the NFL team, and he got a chance to talk to his idol.

“I have wound up giving me 12 pairs of gloves,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “We had 12 football games, so I got to use a new one every game. They helped a lot. “

Last year at Stanford, he caught 24 passes for five touchdowns, one on an 8-yard fade pass from Ryan Burns with 24 seconds left to beat UCLA. Just before that two-minute drive, I told then-receivers coach Lance Taylor, “If you throw it to me, I’m going to score.”

“I think J.J.’s unique,” said his current position coach, Tavita Pritchard. “He’s got such great body control for his size. I think that’s part of his basketball background. “

Despite being tightly covered Saturday by USC’s Jamel Cook, Arcega-Whiteside made a marvelous catch on the sideline for a 39-yard gain. He then caught a 3-yard touchdown pass despite being held by a defender.

“We’ll have to continue to give him those opportunities,” head coach David Shaw said. “He’s done nothing but make plays.”

Another late start: The kickoff time for the home game against UCLA on Sept. 23 will be 7:30 p.m.

Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @tomgfitzgerald

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