Wheelwright Explains His Choice

The Badgers were his first scholarship offer and even after the amount of transition on the staff, Walnut Ridge (OH) HS receiver Rob Wheelwright felt comfortable enough with everything involving the Badgers to give Bret Bielema his verbal commitment Sunday.

MADISON - By the time Rob Wheelwright and his parents were ready to leave to the University of Wisconsin's campus on Sunday, the 6-2, 170-pound receiver wasn't the only one wanting to commit to the two-time defending Big Ten champions.

"My dad really loved it," Wheelwright told Badger Nation. "He was feeling like he wanted to commit and come up there to play. My mom really liked it, too. It was kind of far for my mom, but she said if this is where you want to go, just be happy and make the decision that you want to make."

That decision meant that Wheelwright was going to be making many more trips back to Wisconsin in the future, as he decided that the Badgers were the right fit for him following his second visit. Wheelwright became the fourth verbal commitment of the 2003 signing class, the first offensive player and the first four-star recruit.

The first time Wheelwright came to Madison with his coach, Wheelwright was in the introductory phase with the UW coaching staff and having to prove his talent on the field. This visit, the UW staff knew of his talent, making the visit the past weekend more involved with one-on-one conversations.

"I became closer with the staff," said Wheelwright. "The coaches were real nice, I really liked the facility and I liked the program. Everything was real nice. It seemed like they really wanted me to come and I was really appreciative of that. I made the decision right before I left that I wanted to come here"

Wheelwright came on the visit unsure if he was going to make a decision, as he simply wanted to ‘figure out a few things' about the new staff and get a closer look at the program. Following the spring game and a meeting with coach Bret Bielema on Sunday, Wheelwright was convinced of his college choice.

"Coach Bielema was the one who offered me and when we were talking, he asked me if I was ready to make a decision," said Wheelwright. "I was like, ‘I don't know yet.' The more questions he asked me, the more I was saying yes. I said that I liked the school, I liked the coaches and that I could see myself playing here. I finally said yes that I wanted to come here and he was really excited. He gave me a big hug."

Wisconsin was Wheelwright's first offer after he visited and camped with the UW staff last June. Since then, however, Wheelwright added offers from Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Syracuse and West Virginia. He also saw his position coach (DelVaughn Alexander) and his recruiting contact (Joe Rudolph) leave to take other jobs.

"Wisconsin was always up there but when all that happened, it made me think a little bit more," said Wheelwright. "I was looking to continue the relationship."

That change happened in the form of new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. After being hired following the Rose Bowl, Azzanni made Wheelwright his top priority for a recruiting class that only has room for one, maybe two, receivers.

"He's a great guy," Wheelwright said. "He stuck with me, tried to contact me every day and we talked a lot. I really like that about him."

Wheelwright, the younger brother of Minnesota receiver Ernie Wheelwright (2004-'07) struggled throughout a sophomore season, missing two games because of injuries, had 18 catches for 300 yards and two receiving touchdowns. After having injury problems during the summer, Wheelwright added weight, which in turn added confidence for a 44-catch, 600-yard junior season.

"I feel like I became more of a playmaker," said Wheelwright. "I just wanted the ball in my hands at all times, so I just kept working hard. Becoming bigger really helped my game and that's what's going to push me this summer. The journey isn't over yet. I talked to my brother and he was telling me that ‘I am a man going against boys.' That's the thing that keeps me going."

Although Wheelwright said the support has been positive from his classmates, who attend school deep in Ohio State country, and from his extended family who support the decision he's made, he expects to keep hearing from schools until signing day.

"As of right now, I won't be taking any more visits, but I am sure I'll be hearing from some other schools," said Wheelwright. "If coaches contact me, I'll still talk to them but as of right now, I am committed to Wisconsin."

Walnut Ridge HS coach Bryon Mattox on Wheelwright

"It's been fun coaching him. He has a real passion for the game. He loves to come out and have fun. He works real hard at it. He works real hard at trying to be the best. He was really happy that Wisconsin offered him (last summer). He felt real comfortable there. He's going to be able to come in and be real comfortable there and working with Zach Azzanni.

"He kept growing up (from last year) and really improved his strength, route running. He always caught the ball really well, but he continued to get better in that area. He got faster. Became real personable. He needs to work on his flexibility and get better at his route running. That would probably be his main area of improvement and he can always get stronger. He reminds me of a young Nick Toon.

"Coach Azzanni developed a good relationship with Rob. We talked often. He probably recruited him better than any other coach. He was very persistent, which was good. Persistent isn't pushy. He wanted Rob to be aware of what's going on. He would call Rob to see how basketball was going. He was real thoughtful and real caring."

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