Vic Wharton feels like his old self again a year after arriving at Cal

BERKELEY -- A year after moving to Berkeley, Tennessee transfer Vic Wharton is back down to his playing weight, and with new responsibilities at home, he doesn't want to drop the ball.

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BERKELEY -- When California wide receiver Vic Wharton's girlfriend Allie Desanto tells him to sleep on the couch, it's not a punishment. 

On the first day of fall camp, dealing with a newborn -- Vic Wharton IV, born July 11 -- and school, Desanto knew Wharton had to get some sleep.

"It's hard. The first night of camp, I was trying to stay in the room with little Vic, but my girlfriend, she lets me sleep on the sofa now, so that's actually getting me a lot more sleep today," said the Tennessee transfer.

Desanto and Wharton did the long-distance thing while he was in Knoxville. She went to North Florida, and graduated in 2015.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1694861-bttv-dykes-talks-w... "I moved here in May, and we were going to try to do the long distance, but we realized that we were literally on the opposite sides of the country," Wharton said. "I visited her for the July 4th break and talked her in to moving here with me, and she moved up here August 9th last year."

She's now the assistant manager at the Berkeley Central Apartment Complex, the former home of former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. There are wedding bells in the future, but not the near future.

"There are, but I haven't popped the question yet," Wharton said. "She knows. I have to plan it out. I have my ways. I'm a romantic guy, so I've got to do it the right way."

Early every morning, Wharton -- who took six units this summer -- gets up from the leather futon (courtesy of his mother, who bought it when she came up for the birth of his son) in his 965 square foot, two-bedroom apartment in the University Village in Albany -- Cal's family housing. Desanto drops him off on campus by 7:30, and he heads to class. Sometimes he drives. Most of the time, she does. Then, it's off to afternoon practice. He gets home at around nine.

Defensive end DeVante Wilson -- who had his daughter with now-wife Brittany a month before he arrived in Berkeley -- has had some tips for Wharton.

"I'm proud of him, and happy for him," Wilson said. "I understand what it takes to balance that, and I know it's going to be tough. He lives in the same complex I live in, so I give him some pointers and advice on how to do it."

Like Wharton, Wilson said having his family with him keeps him focused.

"Realizing I have more people to live for than just myself, decisions I make affect them, as well," Wilson said. "It definitely keeps me focused. It keeps me balanced."

For the last week and a half, being a new father, studying and fall camp have taken a toll on Wharton. On Tuesday, he had a final, and on Wednesday, he had a 10-minute final presentation for his African American Studies class.

A 10.7-second 100m runner in high school, who won the state title in the 4x400m as a junior at Spring Hill (Tenn.) Independence, Wharton's speed has been there. The shakes have certainly been there -- Wharton put a double move on Camryn Bynum for a touchdown late last week in the space of 10 yards for a touchdown -- but the hands, those have taken some time to come around.

https://twitter.com/BwhartII/status/762490018937970688

"I always forget that I've been out for a year," Wharton said.

"With Vic, right now, he's got a lot going on right now in his personal life," said inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler. "I think he had a final yesterday, a paper today, and I think just sometimes, letting it get the best of you can kind of affect your practices."

Wharton couldn't seem to finish plays over the first seven practices. Getting over the top of defensive backs was no problem, but when a ball came down, more often than not, it would go right through his outstretched hands.

"I think he had a lot on his mind," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "I think that's part of maturing, is being able to compartmentalize things. When you walk on the football field, it doesn't do you any good to think about other things, and when you're in the classroom, it doesn't do you any good to think about football, and when you're at home, you need to be at home. It's part of the process of growing up and maturing, and he's going through it, but he's starting to get on the back end of it."

On Wednesday, though, after a hip surgery and year of sitting out, Wharton finally showed what he could do.

On a day where drops were endemic, Wharton only had one catchable ball -- borderline, at that -- that hit his hands without him reeling it in.

Wharton was visibly relieved when he hauled in a drag route across the back of the end zone from Davis Webb for a seven-on-seven touchdown. He got his first licks in on special teams, returning punts. In 11-on-11, he reeled in an eight-yard grab from Chase Forrest. He was finally himself again. 

*****

The son of former Western Kentucky cornerback Vic Wharton II, who played under Jack Harbaugh, the younger Wharton remembers going against his father every day of his childhood. His father never went easy.

"It's always been a part of my life. He was my head coach since I was seven, all the way through middle school, and in high school, he was my defensive coordinator," Wharton said. "We're totally different. He loved to hit people, he'll get up in your face, but I really like to make people miss."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1683878-countdown-to-kicko... Wharton fondly remembers when he was finally able to beat his father in one-on-ones.

"Probably sophomore year of high school, that's when I started feeling like I could actually take him. He was starting to slow down a little bit," Wharton laughed.

Wharton played as a true freshman at Tennessee in 2014, playing in nine games with two starts, catching five balls for 64 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown in the TaxSlayer Bowl win over Iowa. But he felt that Knoxville "just wasn't the spot for me."

"We just didn't throw the football," Wharton said. "We had two great backs in Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. Cal had seven receivers leaving this year, so it's really anyone's position.

Right after Wharton got his release from the Volunteers in the winter of 2015, he first heard from Peeler. "Almost immediately," Wharton remembered.

Wharton already knew Cal running back Tre Watson from their time at the Offense-Defense Bowl, and Watson -- who went to middle school in Nashville, Tenn. -- had several mutual acquaintances.

"He had a little bit to do with it, but I knew after I talked to Peeler that I wanted to come out here and take an official visit," Wharton said. "That was really where it got started."

Wharton visited Berkeley on Valentine's Day weekend. He was the only recruit there. His hosts? Watson and the dynamic duo of Ray Hudson and Jared Goff.

"I remember a really family-oriented vibe," Wharton said. "The coaches really cared about the players outside of football, and that was a big deal for me."

He got the royal treatment, and for good reason.

"He's a guy that's a proven player, having played in the SEC as a true freshman," Peeler said.

Wharton's official visit was his first trip ever out to California. The second trip was his big move.

"To throw the ball around, and on top of that, to get the best degree in the world, for me to succeed after the life of football, this is where I'll be able to be the most successful," Wharton said. "I had an open mind before I came here. I had a visit set up to Washington State and Utah, but I ended up not taking those. I felt like this should have been my home."

*****

The day before Cal's opener against Grambling State, Wharton underwent a four-hour hip surgery. As long as he was going to redshirt, due to NCAA transfer rules, he wanted to get the torn labrum in his hip taken care of.

Wharton injured his hip at the end of his junior year of high school. He needed a cortisone shot to play his senior year, and another one to play as a freshman at Tennessee. He was supposed to get another one, before he decided to transfer.

"I still felt just as fast, but it just kept worsening, and then the shots weren't helping," Wharton said. "There ended up being a problem in my bone. They had to shave off some of the bone. It wasn't fitting in there correctly. It was a long surgery."

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1661619-stovall-a-special-... Wharton had never had surgery before. He was nervous. 

While he was laid up, Wharton swelled to 206 pounds, 20 pounds above his playing weight. When he finally hit the field this spring, he felt like he was playing in someone else's body. He was about 80%, he said. 

"I don't know how I'm supposed to be feeling right now," Wharton said during spring ball. "I still have little pains and aches over my left leg. I was scared to do it, going into it, not having my family here, and the whole rehab process was a lot to take in."

By the time spring ball was over, though, Wharton had hauled in four receptions for 43 yards in the spring game, including a nine-yard touchdown catch from Max Gilliam. Then came the summer.

"From spring until now, I haven't really been able to catch a lot of balls," Wharton said." I've been trying to concentrate on school a lot. Today, I caught 100 JUGGS after practice, just to get my hands back into it, really. It's not that they haven't been there; it's been more a lack of concentration, not being used to being around people with the ball, not looking the ball all the way in, and just getting back to the basics of catching."

*****

Now at 185 pounds, Wharton felt he'd turned a corner after Wednesday's practice. Finally settling in -- as much as one can -- to being a father, and having school taken care of, allowed him to clear his mind, and play freely.

"I think, today, I felt a lot better. It felt like my mind was more clear, and I knew the plays better," he said. "I wasn't concentrating on, 'What am I going to do about my final?' and getting a paper done. It showed. I was ready to go today. I made some catches in the back of the end zone, and just felt a lot better, really, in one-on-ones and seven-on-seven, everything."

"Vic had a good practice," said Dykes. "He's been taking care of some academic stuff, so he's a little fresh right now. You can see what a difference a guy being fresh means, when they come back out and they're moving at a little different pace. It feels good to have him back out today, to get out there and work through it, get his timing squared away with the quarterbacks, and becoming more consistent. That's what we're searching for, right now, is some consistency."

Wharton stood next to fellow speedsters Demetris RobertsonBrandon Singleton and Melquise Stovall to return punts, after having not taken a single punt return rep during spring ball.

"I feel good, catching them every day," he said. "That's what I've always done. My dad made sure, since I was a freshman in high school, that we caught punts off the JUGGS machine, so that's not what I'm really worried about. I'm just trying to get my shake back in. It'll come back to me."

When those shakes do come back?

"I think the kid will be a guy that we'll be glad we have him," Peeler said. "He'll be exciting when he gets the ball in his hands."

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