Senior looks to settle score

first_imgHeading into the last weekend of Big Ten play, Minnesota isthe only conference team that knows it will be playing its last game of theseason on Saturday.Apparently no one bothered to tell Ernie Wheelwright.Despite boasting a 1-10 record (0-7 in conference play),Minnesota’s top-scoring receiver remains unfazed going up against No. 24Wisconsin this Saturday in Minneapolis.”We give every team respect,” Wheelwright said. “(Wisconsin)played their hearts out and beat Michigan this year. So we definitely give themrespect, but we’re going to go out here and put our pants on the same way theydo and strap on our helmets the same way they do it and just go out there andplay ball.”With five losses by a combined 16 points including an overtimeand double-overtime loss by a point each, the Gophers’ record could be seen asmisleading (though their lone victory came in triple-overtime). As far asputting points up on the board, this Minnesota team is what Big Ten fans havegrown accustomed to, scoring at least 31 points in five of 11 games thisseason. A big reason for that is Wheelwright. He is second on the team with 59receptions and 683 yards, and is fourth in the conference in receivingtouchdowns with nine, trailing only Indiana’s James Hardy (15), Michigan’sMario Manningham (11) and Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie (10).At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, it comes as no surprise theColumbus, Ohio, native is able to use his body to gain positioning on defensivebacks.”Being a big, physical, tall receiver in the Big Ten — ithas its advantages,” Wheelwright said.Wheelwright was able to use his size to his advantage whenhe played Wisconsin for the first time in 2004. In the 38-14 Badger victory,Wheelwright was a bright spot for Minnesota, catching six balls for 83 yardsand a touchdown. In the last two meetings between these teams, however,Wheelwright has caught just four balls for a combined 52 yards.”Definitely the offense the last couple of years had reallychanged, and we were really running the ball a lot,” Wheelwright said. “Myfreshman year we had a running offense, but we still threw the ball downfield.This year it’s a totally different offense from the last two years that weplayed Wisconsin.”I’m just going to go out there and play my heart out like Ido every Saturday.”In four wild years with Minnesota, Wheelwright has learnedto never stop playing until the final whistle blows.”As Minnesota Gophers, we’ve seen it all,” he said. “There’sbeen pretty much nothing we haven’t seen.”Two games came to mind.At last year’s Insight Bowl Minnesota held a 31-point leadon Texas Tech in the third quarter and ended up losing. And holding a three-pointadvantage with 30 seconds left against Wisconsin two years ago, JonathanCasillas blocked a punt, and Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone forthe game-winning touchdown.So according to Wheelwright, there’s nowhere else to go butup.That statement could arguably apply to Minnesota footballduring Wheelwright’s tenure, but might be more appropriate when talkingspecifically about the Badgers, against whom the Gophers are 0-3 inWheelwright’s first three seasons. Despite that, he still recognizes thehistory between these two teams.”I think it’s one of the best rivalries in collegefootball,” Wheelwright said. “It’s definitely a little more special justknowing about the tradition between Minnesota and Wisconsin and just knowingthat playing on the field, there’s going to be a lot of guys on the Wisconsinteam from Minnesota and a lot of guys from Wisconsin on the Minnesota team.”Wheelwright appreciates the rivalry enough to admit a winwould certainly take some of the sting of this season away.”It wouldn’t be (a great win) because it’s the end of theseason; it’d be a great victory because it’s over Wisconsin.”Regardless of what happens Saturday, Wheelwright seems tohave little regret looking back at his college career.”I’ve enjoyed every moment once all is said and done becauseup until now I’ve had a great college career,” Wheelwright said. “I’ve had goodtimes, and I’ve had bad times. I can say that I’ve played in some of the biggames and made some of the biggest plays and some of the tough catches, so Ifeel like I had a great college career.”With one game before the book is shut on his college footballcareer, Wheelwright has one more opportunity to add an exclamation point to hislegacy. And what better way to end it against his rival, Wisconsin.”I just can’t wait to face them,” Wheelwright said.last_img

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