Even though he's a walk-on who has yet to play a down for Georgia, Brandon Wheeling is getting a lot more attention from the folks back home in Paulding County than he did when he used to suit up collegiately for the University of West Georgia.
"People used not to talk to me at all when I was at West Georgia. Now, it's a different story," Wheeling said. "The other day I was at a gas station getting ready to head back over here when this guy I didn't even know asked me how everything was going. He even wanted to know if I could hook him up with some tickets."
It seems like everybody wants to know about the defensive tackle that transferred to Georgia from West Georgia almost a year ago.
Although he'd been written about on this site and played well in last year's G-Day Game, collecting four tackles including a sack, Wheeling's name suddenly became a buzz word following recent comments about him by defensive line coach Rodney Garner and teammate Geno Atkins.
Turns out, Wheeling's story is an interesting one at that.
After graduating from Paulding County High in 2005, the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder received only a handful of scholarship offers, none from any big-time schools despite earning All-Region 7-AAAA honors in 2004, recording 48 tackles, three sacks and three fumble recoveries.
In fact, Wheeling thought his playing days might be over for good when he started going to school part time at Georgia Southern before winding up at West Georgia where he redshirted in 2005 before starting in 2006 and 2007.
But Georgia was always on his mind.
"I always wanted to go to school here and coming out of high school I really didn't have any offers. So that first fall I didn't go to school at all, then I went to Georgia Southern part time and ended up at West Georgia and started playing ball there in the fall of 2005," said Wheeling, who redshirted his first year at the Carrollton school. "I started there for a couple of years then finally got my grades to transfer in. My head coach had just got fired and figured it was just a good time to come on out."
Wheeling admits that had it not been for his grades, he would have attempted to enroll at Georgia much earlier.
"I knew that the Good Lord blessed me with the opportunity to get here because my grades, compared with the majority of the kids going to school here, I'm not as smart as a lot of the kids here so I have to work harder and everything," Wheeling said. "Honestly, in my wildest dreams, I would not have believed it."
Despite his early academic issues, Wheeling said he was told by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, that if he ever got into the school he would attempt to get him on as a preferred walk-on.
So, after Wheeling's grades came in, he had his high school coach call Bobo, who put him in touch with Joe Tereshinski who coordinates the Bulldogs' walk-on program.
Wheeling said it didn't take him long to fit right in.
"Always as a new guy you don't really know how that kind of thing is going to go, but the guys have been great," Wheeling said. "Especially the guys on the defensive line, they treat me like I'm one of the guys, not like I'm a walk-on or anything."
Atkins thinks that Wheeling can help out as well.
"He's an intense, hard worker and even though he's not a scholarship guy he plays like one," Atkins said. "He helps create great depth for us. He lays it on the line every day. I think he can actually help us a lot."
Wheeling promises he will give it his all.
"Coach (strength and conditioning coach Dave) Van Halanger and Coach (Mark) Richt always talk about working the full day and that's what I try to do, give it my all every day and hopefully that will be good enough," Wheeling said. "Coach Bobo and Coach (Stacy) Searels even joke that they're going to move me to offense. I'd rather play on defense, but whatever I can do to help the team I'd do. Whatever I can do to give guys like Geno and Jeff (Owens) a breather, it doesn't matter: I'll do it."
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