On Saturdays throughout the season, the plan will be to highlight one Patriots player’s football journey. This week, it is cornerback Terrence Wheatley.
Wheatley, a 2008 second-round draft choice, is candid when he calls his initial entry into the NFL an “up and down” experience. Wheatley has played sparingly on defense this season (18 snaps), and last Sunday in Indianapolis he found himself in a new role on the kickoff return unit.
On where his journey started: “I think I was in the sixth grade. I always wanted to play when I was in the third grade, but my mom was like ‘you’ll get hurt.’ They were more track people, just growing up with it, so I was doing more track.”
What teams and players he followed: “Being born in California, I grew up watching the 49ers and Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, and then Steve Young later on. When I moved to Dallas, I was still a 49ers guy. I didn’t get on the Dallas bandwagon, but I didn’t tell anyone.”
On moving from California to North Carolina to Dallas: “We were in California, and stayed there until the ’89 earthquake. Then we went to North Carolina for a couple years, then Dallas, and went back to North Carolina, then back to Dallas. My dad is an engineer, so he was going where the work was. Sports was a way to go out and make new friends who have the same interests. When you’re in school, kids already have their friends established. My best friend now, I met him playing basketball.”
On playing high school football in Plano, Texas: “I went to the biggest high school in Texas. I think my graduating class was 1,800 students. It was like a college campus -- you had to pay for parking, we had six different buildings and an actual sports complex. We had four football fields and the stadium was the main stadium in the city. It held around 20,000, so I was used to playing in front of big crowds.”
On when his view of football changed: “Until my junior year of high school, I was always a track person. Even then, I wasn’t even going to play football. I was going to run pro track. I qualified for the Olympic trials out of high school. I was debating whether to skip college and go run pro track, or go through school and try the football thing.”
On attending Colorado and playing football: “That wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to go to Texas A&M. My dad being an engineer, I wanted to be an engineer, and they have one of the top engineering programs in the country. I liked the coach and went to one of their summer camps there and the coaches liked me. Two days before I was about to commit, they fired Coach [R.C.] Slocum, so I was like, ‘I guess I’m going somewhere else.’ I went to another camp in Colorado. After watching me run the 40, they offered me [a scholarship]. I didn’t want to play the BS game with other schools so that was good enough for me.”
On being drafted by New England in the second round: “During the draft process, I interviewed with so many teams. I didn’t know where I would get drafted because I knew everyone was concerned about the whole wrist thing. Bill [Belichick] put it best when he drafted me when he said, ‘He’s played with it for two years.’ It wasn’t like I just hurt the thing. Yes, it’s pretty crazy to think a guy can play football with a wrist that technically doesn’t move. I had 14 interceptions in college, had the school record in that, and the school record in kickoff return yards. But dealing with that, I really wasn’t sure where I was going to go. I interviewed with the Patriots probably more than anybody.”
On getting the call on draft day: “Dallas was on the clock. I was thinking that would be cool to be close to family, although I was thinking it would be stressful needing 50 tickets every game because I live right down the street. The phone rang and the Patriots said, ‘If Dallas doesn’t take you, we’ll take you.’ I thought it wasn’t a bad thing at all -- going to Dallas and staying close to the family or going to a team with the prestige of the Patriots.”
On his first two seasons with the Patriots: “It’s been up and down. There have been high times and low times. The journey has been interesting. It’s still not done yet. I still have a long way to go. It’s obviously a little disappointing when you get hurt and stuff like that. I’m slowly working my way back into it. Hopefully later on I will become the player everybody thinks I can be, hopefully I can get that shot, and everything works out. I’m just taking it day by day, enjoying the journey, the bad days, the days where you are kind of like ‘Oh man’ because the body hurts and you get frustrated. This is about the journey and what you learn every day. That’s what I try to focus on.”