Markus Wheaton a centerpiece of Beavers' pass receiving corps
CORVALLIS - You learn more about Markus Wheaton when you ask him to describe his parents, Katrina and Odis Wheaton.
Katrina Wheaton is an accountant. Odis works for Bank of America. They live in Chandler, Ariz.
'She's a hurricane,' Markus says, of his mother, with a twinkle in his eyes. 'I love her, though. She's the kindest person you could ever meet. She'll do anything for any of us kids. She's just nice.
'Dad is pretty strict, a lot more strict than my mom. Mom is a lot more easygoing. Dad pushes us to work hard. For sure, he was the disciplinarian.'
It makes sense. Markus, Oregon State's outstanding junior slotback, gets his work ethic from his father. He gets his personality and demeanor from his mother.
Markus gets at least some of his athletic ability from his father, who played basketball at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.
It runs in the family. Markus' older brother, Marquese, is a senior cornerback at Southern Mississippi. Their younger sister, Tyerra, will run track as a freshman next season at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.
Then there is Kenny Wheaton, the ex-Oregon cornerback who played three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before a six-year career in the Canadian Football League that ended in 2008.
Markus and Kenny are second cousins. Markus' grandfather and Kenny's father are brothers.
Markus was born in Phoenix, moved to Dallas as an infant and returned to the Phoenix area at age 10. He was in Dallas when Kenny, now 36, played for the Cowboys.
'I know him pretty well,' Markus says. 'I went to a lot of his games when he was with the Cowboys. We've worked out together when I'm home (in Chandler).'
The 2011 season might be when Markus gets to prove himself NFL-worthy after a terrific sophomore year in which he led Oregon State with 54 receptions for 660 yards and carried 28 times for 235 yards and an 8.4-yard average.
With James Rodgers not yet in rock-and-fire mode as he works his way back from knee surgery, the 6-foot, 180-pound Wheaton seems on the verge of an even bigger season. He started it with six receptions for 108 yards in the Beavers' 29-28 season-opening overtime loss to Sacramento State.
'Markus is fast, and he plays fast,' says Brent Brennan, OSU's first-year wide receivers coach. ' He is really good at using his feet and being physical. He has become more and more of a technician. That comes with age and maturity, understanding you can't just run away from everybody in the Pac-12 like he was able to do in high school.
'He has a great attitude. He's a pleasure to coach. He works hard. He blocks and is not afraid to mix it up. I'm really impressed with him - don't tell him I said that.'
It's a bit of an upset that Wheaton wound up at Oregon State. After getting scholarship offers from every Pac-10 school except Stanford, he took visits to Colorado, California, UCLA and Oregon. He liked the Ducks, but wrote them off when new head coach Chip Kelly fired receivers coach Robin Pflugrad, who was recruiting Wheaton.
'I was interested, but the coaching change changed my mind,' he says. 'At that point, I hadn't take a visit to Corvallis. That's what made me come here (on an official visit). And I loved it, so I signed.'
What sold him?
'Everything that had to do with the program - the coaches, the players, the environment, the fans,' Wheaton says. 'After my visit, I was hooked. And it has been such a great fit. I'd make the same decision again.'
When OSU assistants Jay Locey and Mike Cavanaugh were recruiting Wheaton, head coach Mike Riley was leery that blood lines might steer Markus toward Eugene.
'I said, 'Do you know who this guy's cousin is?' ' Riley says. 'I wouldn't say I was pessimistic, but I was wondering what kind of opportunity we might have to get him.
'Those guys did a terrific job of educating Markus about Oregon State, and our players were key there, especially James. Those two guys hit it off in the recruiting process. That's the best way to recruit - players are your best recruiters.'
The Beavers were delighted to land Wheaton, who finished second in state in the 400 as a senior with a best of 46.80.
'He's a guy who jumped out at you on film,' Riley says. 'Great speed, the ability to make something happen with the ball, really good hands and a pretty good idea of running routes. He had a lot of stuff with his physical gifts.'
Riley would loved to have redshirted Wheaton as a freshman, but injuries made it necessary to play him, though sparingly. He caught eight passes for 89 yards and carried the ball 11 times for 79 yards.
'I learned a lot that year,' Wheaton says. 'Coming in, I didn't want to sit out at all. I'm glad he let me play, even though it was only for a few plays here and there.'
Rodgers willingly served as a mentor.
'When he first came in, I worked a lot with him,' OSU's senior flanker says. 'After awhile, he started figuring out things on his own. Now he's grooming himself into the player he wants to be.'
This season, Wheaton is the centerpiece of the Beavers' receiving corps.
'Markus has made big strides,' OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says. 'We'll have him a little more on the edge this year, using that speed in space. We just have to do a good job of getting the ball in his hands and letting him go to work.'
Wheaton has taken over as a mentor for 5-9, 170-pound true freshman Brandin Cooks, starting at flanker as Rodgers rehabs back into playing condition.
'We're the same type of player,' Wheaton says. 'We've been working a lot together. He's willing to learn. Whoever wants help, I'm glad to work with.'
Riley feels Wheaton has matured a great deal as a person since arriving in Corvallis, in part because of his participation in the 'Beavers Without Borders' trip to Guatemala last spring.
'That was eye-opening,' Wheaton says. 'I understand now how fortunate I am for what I have.'
Wheaton has gone after it hard in the summer and during training camp, preparing himself for a larger role in the OSU offense.
'He's as tough as a receiver can be,' junior cornerback Jordan Poyer says. 'He's fast, he's quick, he runs crisp routes. It's nice being able to guard a guy like him in practice. It's making me better every day.'
Soon, the fruits of Wheaton's labors should show.
'We're learning just who Markus Wheaton can be,' says Locey, who coached receivers during Wheaton's first two years at OSU. 'And I think he's learning something about that, too.'