Season recap: Jake Wheeler
For some time, Jake Wheeler was South Florida's best-kept football recruiting secret.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound offensive tackle didn’t participate in any offseason camps or combines, so the major recruiting services were largely unaware of his existence.
College football coaches, however, knew all about Wheeler, a senior at American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., and a recent Maryland commitment.
“[Maryland] has a fairly good recruiting base in South Florida,” said American Heritage coach Byron Walker. “So Jake was known. Whether or not he was known with Rivals [and other recruiting services], he was known around the collegiate ranks. He has been a valuable prospect and he’s a very good basketball player. He actually had two sports to choose from in terms of what he did on the collegiate level. It wasn’t just football out there.”
Wheeler decided to shun several mid-major basketball offers when he committed to the Terps just before Christmas. In landing Wheeler, Maryland got a versatile, athletic prospect who started at left tackle and defensive end for the Patriots, while also seeing time at tight end and outside linebacker.
“Jake’s a pretty fiery guy, day in and day out,” Walker said. “He’s an emotional leader. He pushes the kids out there with his size and ability. He’s a natural leader for us. The fact that he can do so many things made him so valuable to us. He blocked a kick that preserved a 31-28 win. He did that two years in a row -- blocking field goals. He led our team in fumble recoveries for two years. The ball seems to be attracted to him when it’s on the ground.”
Wheeler helped American Heritage to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the region final as a senior. Walker said Wheeler’s wingspan and athleticism made him a difficult player to deal with for the opposition. “The sky is the limit” for Wheeler, Walker said.
“He’s tall and very athletic,” Walker said. “He has long arms, and that’s critical, particularly for the left tackle position. They just like those intangibles that he has. They can take a good foundation and build that into what could be a great player. He’s very intelligent, so he’s not going to have any trouble learning the offense at that level. I think there are a lot of things they like about him in that regard.
“But that great natural size is the main thing, and the way he moves around at that size. The thing about him is that he has those intangibles that we can’t coach, and that’s great size. We wouldn’t be surprised -- if he continues developing -- to see him playing on Sundays at some point as somebody’s left tackle.”