Jake Wheeler talks Terps commitment
Jake Wheeler had about 22 hours to break down every facet of the Maryland football program.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound offensive tackle from American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., took an official visit to College Park on Dec. 17 with his parents.
After a two-day introduction to the Terps, the Wheelers were scheduled to fly home to Florida on Dec. 19. Mother Nature, however, had other plans. The biggest blizzard of the decade hit Maryland that weekend, halting the Wheelers’ travel plans.
“I’ve seen snow,” Wheeler said, “but not like that. ... So all our flights got canceled. The earliest we could have gotten back to Florida was Christmas Eve, but instead ... we rented a car and just drove back. It actually didn’t take too long; 22 hours or so.”
The Wheeler family used the car ride to discuss all things Maryland. It didn’t take long for the trio to arrive at a consensus -- that UM was the best fit for Jake. He committed to the Terps soon after the family got back to Florida.
“I liked how with all the players, there were none with big egos,” Wheeler said. “Everyone liked everyone and all the coaches weren’t getting all up in your face. They’ll get in your face, but then back off and watch you progress. So that’s the kind of stuff I like. [Also], the weight room program they’ve got there ... is amazing. That would really help me get to the next level after college.”
Wheeler’s biggest dilemma in choosing a school was deciding which sport he would play -- football or basketball. The starting center for American Heritage, Wheeler is currently averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. He had offers to play basketball at Florida Atlantic, Charleston Southern, Montana State and Columbia, while South Florida had expressed interest.
For football, Wheeler had contact with Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Miami, Oklahoma, Rutgers and Vanderbilt. Eventually, Wheeler decided his ceiling was higher in football.
“I was trying to see if I had a better chance of going further in basketball or football,” Wheeler said. “[When I was younger] it was basketball. Then I thought I could really go somewhere with football, so I started to lean more toward football. ... I was hoping to find a school where I could play both, which I might even be able to do at Maryland. I’m going to talk to the coach and see what’s going on.”
There are 10 kids in the Wheeler family, ranging in age from one to 20. Jake is the third oldest. Older brother Jared, the second-oldest, is a redshirt freshman offensive guard at Miami. Jake looked to Jared for advice while going through the recruiting process. Now that the brothers will be on different ACC rosters next season, a sibling rivalry has been born.
“Oh, he loves it,” Wheeler said. “It’s a competition now, so it’s good. ... Next year Maryland is going to play at Miami, so I was hoping not to redshirt and maybe play tight end. That was something we talked about. I talked to the coaches about not redshirting and playing tight end. ... They have pushed me toward left tackle right now, but they also opened up tight end. We don’t know for sure right now.”
Wheeler played the first three games of his senior season at left tackle before finishing the year out at tight end. Wherever he ends up playing for the Terps, Wheeler has one promise for the coaching staff.
“On the field, I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Wheeler said, “and just [beat] the person in front of me.”