As the disappointing losses mount for Michigan talk of Brady Hoke’s job security intensifies. That makes the job of luring most top recruiting targets into the fold all the more difficult. But in the case of Tyrone Wheatley Sr. it won’t be as big a consideration. That’s because his dad, former Michigan Wolverine and current Buffalo Bills running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley Sr. is making sure it won’t be.
“First and foremost we told him, we’re not looking for a place for a head coach,” the elder Wheatley said. “We’re looking at bricks and mortar and internal. The landscape of college football is three and out. Three and out, you lose and you’re gone OR three and out, you’re hot and you’re gone. Either way, whether the coach is doing well or doing badly, coaches are gone.”
It is with that mindset that the Wheatleys ventured out on unofficial visits to Michigan, USC, UCLA, and Alabama over the last few years. In each place they made sure to thoroughly vet a range of criteria that have nothing to do with football.
“What I’ve told him is, ‘look at it this way… go to a campus (and) walk around the campus,” Wheatley Sr. said. “Just walk around, chill out… don’t even think football. Get on the campus, feel the buzz, see the buzz. Then go back a second day.’ We went (on visits) and college coaches didn’t even know we were on campus. This way you can say, ‘is this a place that I want to be if I wasn’t a football player (and) if this is a place that I’d want to be if this coach wasn’t here. I told him you have to look at it as all coaches are jerks. All coaches want to win. I mean that in a good way. All coaches want to win, they’re going to be hard, they’re going to be stern, they’re going to be tough, and they’re going to push you to the limit where you don’t think you can go. You’re going to curse them, but every coach is going to be a jerk. They’ll flash their pearly white smiles in recruitment, tell you everything you want to hear, but as soon as you sign your name on the dotted line, they have you. Now it is time to get to work. That’s the part that the kids don’t see. It goes from ‘Wheatley, I love you’ to ‘damn it Wheatley, you suck!’ I told him to look at all coaches as jerks and then look at the bricks and mortar, the internal, meaning the academic people. Who is going to support you? Those are things that matter most. Right now (talk of Hoke being on the hot seat) and all this other stuff makes absolutely no difference because we’re not paying attention to it.”
That is, they aren’t paying attention to it from a recruiting perspective. From the perspective of one of the all-time great Wolverines, however, he can’t help but take notice.
“It is one of those things as a former player (and) alumnus, you can take on one of two roles,” he said. “You can look at it and be real critical or look at (and say) what can be fixed? What can be done? Just from my perspective, looking at kids from 18-21 years old that put in some hard work over the offseason, they thought that hard work and determination and all that stuff was going to carry over into the season. You come out and have a very decisive win over Appalachian State. Then all of a sudden when you start playing these top 25 teams, guess what? They had a hell of an offseason too. They lift weights as well. They ran hard in the offseason too. I think right now it is just things are not clicking. What I mean by things not clicking… it just felt like a step or two slow catching a pass, maybe the pass overthrown, maybe protection breaks down here and there. I’m saying this not to be politically correct, but when I look at the film and I look at the tape, the right calls are being made. The right calls are being made. It is just the execution. I think if Hoke and those guys could get to the point where they can execute the plays, it’ll be there. If you go back and look at some of those calls and look what’s going on, the plays are there now. The calls are there, kids just have to convert, kids just have to execute.”
When Buffalo (NY.) Canisius traveled to Ohio last Friday it did so expecting to beat Walsh Jesuit, but it didn’t expect to utterly dominate its Buckeye State foe from start to finish.
“The team played great,” Wheatley Jr. said after his team’s 43-7 victory. “We’ve never beat this team like this, even before I got here and it was just good to finally let them have it. Everyone executed, we went through the game plan; we were prepared.”
“(On the) offensive side of the ball, I think I performed pretty well. I didn’t do much in the receiving aspect of the game, but in the run game I had some really key blocks with our tackle. We made it happen.”
Wheatley finished the contest with a five-yard reception and three tackles, including a sack on which he forced a fumble. At nearly 6-6, 260 lbs. (down from the 270-plus he checked in at over the summer), he is already a hulking figure on both sides of the ball. Now he working hard to become more of a consistent force on both sides of the ball.
“I’m a little bit bigger (than last year at this time),” said Wheatley. “I lost a lot of weight and put on muscle. I’m faster, I’m stronger.”
“I’ve made a lot of progress,” said Wheatley. “Just watching film of these D1 football players… you’ve got to do a lot of blocking at tight end. It’s not always going out and catching passes. This season, I’ve spent a lot of time working with our O-line coaches and the O-line during practice.”
Though rated a four-star tight end by Scout.com, one of the major questions he still faces is what position will he play collegiately?
“I still like offense, but defense just comes natural,” he said. “It’s a little bit easier so I’m still trying to figure that out, so we’ll see.”
The answer to that question will likely go a long way in determining which of his five finalists he’ll ultimately pick. Despite being busy with school and his season Wheatley has managed to stay in contact with all of them in some way, shape, or form.
“Alabama has been contacting me a lot, along with UCLA,” he stated. “Coach Mora is always hitting me up. Coach Tui from USC came to the school the other day after they lost to Boston College. He came all the way back out from California to come see me and hang out, so that was nice. Coach Chinander from Oregon, he’s been on it. They’re recruiting you hard.”
“I haven’t talked to (Michigan) a lot. Coach Mallory is hitting me up daily on Facebook and stuff like that. I haven’t really talked to Coach Hoke, Ferrigno or any of them that much lately.”
“I’m sure they’ll call me soon, send me a letter. I’ll call them. I’ve got to figure out when I’m going to get out there.”
Performance on the field will also factor into the talented youngster’s decision, but that doesn’t mean that some of the disappointing performances like those turned in by Michigan in losses to Notre Dame and Utah, or USC’s loss on the road to Boston College will automatically harpoon those school’s respective chances.
“Everyone’s going to have their good games and bad games,” said Wheatley. “I just watch them overall and see how the team responds to that next week.”
For now he insists he is holding all of his suitors in equally high regard.
“Alabama, Roll Tide,” he said. “Their explosive everywhere. They’ve got a lot of good players. They’ve been doing their things for years.
“Oregon, they’re real explosive. They’re recruiting me on the defensive side of the ball, kind of pass rusher. That’s where I’m good at, where I’ve been working at. That’s where I’ve been working at, so I like that.”
“UCLA is also that defensive end type pass rusher guy, so that’s exciting.”
“Michigan is tight end. My dad (went there) and all that kind of stuff.”
The elder Wheatley continues to shy away from pushing his son to his alma-mater. What pro-Michigan sentiment there is has become more subtle. That same subtlety is not been being exhibited by current Wolverine commitments Chris Clark and Alex Malzone.
“Chris is like I could come there, you go double tight and just eat. Just eat,” Wheatley said laughingly. “They’re all recruiting me. Alex (Malzone) is always hitting me up, like, ‘dude just commit!’ He hits me up the most. He has my number and he has texted me and stuff. I hear that he is hitting up everybody.”
Those efforts haven’t moved Wheatley closer to a decision, though. The next step on his recruiting itinerary is to set up his official visits.
“I normally play Saturday, so I play when (the colleges) are playing,” he said. “This is one of the rare times that is a Friday night game. We’re four and a half hours away from home. I probably won’t be able to take any officials until the beginning of December (or) January after the dead period. So that is probably when I’m going to take mine.”
Canisius Prep came over into Ohio and put a beating on Walsh Jesuit. Wheatley was used mostly as a blocker on offense, but also made some big plays on defense. The Scout 300 prospect's size, but also his willingness to do whatever his team needed to get the victory was on display.