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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Wheatley Jr. looking forward to decision

By Josh Moyer

T.J. Wheatley Jr. (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius) has moved around more often than an Army brat.

He's followed his father and current Buffalo Bills' assistant coach, Tyrone Wheatley, from New Jersey to Florida, from California to Michigan (in three different homes) and then, finally, to New York. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound tight end/defensive end is still unpacking some boxes after his most recent switch from Syracuse to Buffalo, when his father was promoted from college assistant to NFL coach.

But the next move the ESPN Junior 300 prospect makes? That'll finally be up to just T.J.

"I don't really have a hometown," he said with a laugh. "I've been all over; everywhere's a hometown. But now it's my choice. I'm not being forced to go anywhere. It's pretty exciting."

Back in Michigan -- the place where he took up football, learned toughness and was constantly compared to an All-American father who ranks among the Wolverines' all-time rushers -- T.J. hears all about how his next move is already written. He's a Wolverine through and through, some family members say. Why not just commit already?

But for a high school athlete who's lived in more houses than he's played seasons of football, the answer's not that simple. And he's not about to rush into it.

"I mean, Michigan's a great school and everything -- but I'm going to sit down and look at all the schools," he said. "When we go back home to a lot of family in Michigan, I hear, 'Blue and gold, it's in your blood.' And it's like, 'Look, the decision's mine. You can talk all you want.'

"I love the program and everything. My dad gets to see his friends there, but I'm going to go wherever I'm most comfortable."

The focused teen, whose new coaches already label as "focused" and "incredibly serious," isn't joking. He's up to eight offers already, and he's already visited three of the bigger names on the list: Alabama, Michigan and Penn State. But he's not stopping there.

He also holds offers from Nevada, North Carolina, Syracuse, Washington and Wisconsin. He hopes to attend the Syracuse-PSU opener on Aug. 31, and he also wants to see the Washington-Illinois game on Sept. 14.

"Washington, I really like their coaching staff," he said. "I know they're not the best program, but maybe those coaches can train me to be my best."

He labeled his Alabama visit "a lot of fun" and was wowed by the new weight room and facilities. ("I mean, they even have their own little food place in there," he added.) And the atmosphere at Penn State also impressed the potential engineering or biology major.

"I'm considering Penn State still. I know a lot's going on with them," he said, referring to the sanctions. "But I'm there to play football and everything. If I don't go to a bowl, that's something to think about. But I'm weighing everyone equal right now."

Still fresh off a move from Syracuse, the two-way threat -- who also plays basketball and lacrosse -- is done visiting schools for the summer. But he's still working with his new teammates at Canisius and said, right after a Tuesday workout, they were already jelling well.

His new coaches agreed. During recent 7-on-7s, Canisius' quarterback tossed the ball at T.J.'s ankles before the new player -- who's been called humble and hard-working, but certainly not shy -- told the nervous signal-caller to just toss it high. The QB did on the next play -- and that's when Canisius' coaches eyes shot up.

"On the first day he says, 'Hey man, throw it up and I'll get it.' And then he goes and gets one that we thought was well over his head," Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. "We saw his film and everything, but we didn't expect to see that.

"And the thing is that, right now, his preference is tight end. But we all think that defensive end is really where he's exemplified his talents so far."

T.J. admitted that was the case, and his dad playfully pokes fun at him every now and then for wanting to be a player who touches the ball. His father thinks he'd fit better at defensive end, but college coaches are mostly split. Some schools -- such as Penn State -- offered him at both positions.

But there's a lot of time left before his college career begins, so that's one element he's not worried about. For now, he's just trying to perform his research on schools, bounce ideas off his parents and prepare to defend Canisius' undefeated 2012 season. And he's open to every school.

Well, almost every school.

"No Ohio State or Michigan State," he said with a laugh. "I can't do it. Those are just two schools that, even if I don't go to Michigan, I can't do it. My dad would have a heart attack if I committed there."