Wheatley had a plate made of titanium surgically placed in his right wrist last November. It was the fourth — and Wheatley says, the final — surgery to repair the wrist he originally broke in March 2004. Wheatley is healed and ready for the 2007 camp and football season. He's hoping the fourth time is the charm.
How good was Wheatley last season? He led the Buffs with five interceptions and the league coaches voted him to the first-team All-Big 12 team. The academically minded Wheatley even sought advice from those in the know and was told it would be prudent to leave school early and declare for the 2007 NFL Draft. That's exactly what he was going to do until the plate in his wrist — made of stainless steel — broke late in his junior year.
And so it was back to the operating room.
"The day after the Nebraska game – we flew back in, I slept for maybe four hours then drove straight up to Vail and had surgery," Wheatley says. "It was a five-hour surgery. This was the last surgery I'm going to have, so we threw the encyclopedia at it."
Wheatley's doctor removed dead bone and replaced it with a portion of the radius in his arm. He also used some bone from one of Wheatley's hips to fill in some gaps. Then he inserted the titanium plate — stronger than the steel version. Finally, the main artery running through Wheatley's arm was re-routed into the repaired area to help nourish the new bone and tissue.
"I'm good to go," Wheatley says.
Actually, Wheatley was good to go in the spring, but he was held out of most full contact situations for precautionary reasons. That's good news for the Buffs' secondary — a unit that struggled early last season as it made the transition under then-new coach Greg Brown. Wheatley thinks a year under Brown and defensive coordinator Ron Collins means everyone's on the same page.
"A lot of the completions teams had last year were just blown calls," Wheatley says. "Or one side was running the right coverage the other side was doing something completely different."
Usually, Wheatley was on the side running the right coverage. He's been told his smarts are one of the attributes that impress pro scouts. Brown agrees.
"Anybody that's going to be an economics major — this guy's got something between his shoulder blades," Brown says. "He's special."
Wheatley will finish his degree in economics in December. This summer he gave a 35-minute lecture and wrote a 20-page paper on the economics of Algeria for one of his classes. Get him started and he can riff on issues that face our world these days, like exploring solar power, ethanol or sugar cane as alternative energy sources. But his first love might be meteorology.
"To me that's really interesting," Wheatley says. "As a kid, for some reason I always watched the Weather Channel religiously. I was a weather nerd. I had a little weather station outside. I used to check it every day — even if it didn't rain I would check it. Actually, I still am a weather nerd."
Don't be shocked if one day you turn on the television and see Wheatley standing in front of a map and talking about how much it's going to rain in the coming week. But before that, chances are you'll catch him on TV on Sundays during the fall.
"He's got a lot of upside," Brown says. "He's got tools to work with. He's got a great deal of speed, ball skills, some savvy playing the position. The ceiling's pretty high with Terrence. As high as he wants to take it."
Indeed, Wheatley has been told pro scouts like his combination of physical and mental skills. He's the fastest player on the CU team. He clocked a 4.24 and 4.27 40-yard dash indoors last year, then ran 4.37 on grass against a head wind this spring. After showing up at Colorado a skinny 160-pound freshman from Dallas, Wheatley plays around 185-190 pounds these days.
But there's the wrist. Wheatley admits he's gotten word some scouts are concerned about it. He has limited mobility in the wrist. But that hasn't seemed to hinder his productivity, witness the five interceptions a year ago. And Wheatley figures another year in the Colorado secondary will give him a chance to prove that — after his fourth surgery — the wrist is OK.
He's not dwelling on the negatives.
"People ask me ‘How do you catch or how do you throw?' Honestly, I don't think about it," he says. "It is what it is. It's not going to change. I have this for the rest of my life."