For St. Mary’s Ryken rising senior Ryan Wheeler, heading into his final season of Knights football, the stressful part of college recruiting is coming to an end.
The outside linebacker and defensive end has been offered scholarships by Georgetown, Howard and Robert Morris (Pa.) to play Division I football on the college level, but he is holding out for a full ride.
“Those are the schools that have offered me so far,” Wheeler said. “I was stressed out before, waiting for offers to come for three years basically, and now it seems like things are paying off and it’s kind of feels like a sense of relief.”
Wheeler is looking at playing in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. The subdivision consists of 124 teams in 13 conferences. FCS teams are limited to 63 players on scholarship and play one game less a season than their Football Bowl Subdivision counterparts.
According to Wheeler, the hardest part of college recruiting is already over. Now, he just has to make his decision.
“This time, spring time up until now, is the biggest recruiting period ever until high school ends," he said. "Then it goes dead over the summer, and around Christmas to February is the signing period. So right now is the crunch time.”
Wheeler plans to make his choice by National Signing Day, which is Feb. 5.
“They don’t want to pressure me, but I would like to sign around my birthday time in February,” he said.
Wheeler has big football dreams that may have started at St. Mary's Ryken, but hopes to extend far beyond college.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to play on ESPN, so I’m still chasing that dream,” he said. “I played outside linebacker and defensive end, that’s what I’ve been offered as position-wise. So that’s something that I will decide over time, ultimately I want to go to the NFL, I guess whatever I study.”
Wheeler is still split in his decision as he fields the pros and cons of attending an Ivy League school, which is more academics focused, or a football program that wins championships.
“It’s either going to be Robert Morris or Howard because those two will be free,” Wheeler said. “Georgetown will be more need-based aid. Ivy League is also not as good Division I competition and the academics are better so there's pros and cons.”
But for Wheeler, a lifetime Southern Maryland native, location is also a large factor in his decision.
“For sure, I wanted to be able to make sure that my family could go to games,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and drive to school, leave at 6:00 p.m. and not be able to see the family.”
Wheeler also started playing football with his longtime friend and St. Mary’s Ryken rising junior Will Johnson.
“[Johnson and I] went to the same local trainer around here,” Wheeler said. “I started making the transition to go to Ryken and I was telling him about the academic and athletic opportunities and about college exposure, and how it could benefit him to play on the level that we both dreamed of as kids.”
Knights head football coach Aaron Brady, who is going into his third year with the program, wants to see his students achieve on the football field and beyond.
“He’s in the FCS, which is the lower Division I, and he wants to play in the highest level and find the best fit for him, academically and socially," Brady said.
According to Brady, college football recruiting is more than just being athletically fit to play in college.
“That’s why there’s kids that can play college football and not many of them can hit the academic parameters,” he said. “[Wheeler is] an intelligent kid, things kind of come easy to him. He’s a quick learner. I got here and he was a sophomore and he picked up the defense very quickly. He’s an intelligent guy and has picked up 25 pounds and that will help for recruiting. They use a baseline for height, weight and GPA, SAT.”
Brady attributes much of the St. Mary’s Ryken football program’s recent success to whole player approach.
“We spent a lot of time on the academics with these guys, because to me that’s why we are winning football games,” he said. “We have good habits. We take notes in football class. All of these things help. First thing I ever said to these guys is football starts in the classroom. He embodies that.”
Wheeler still has big plans for his final year of high school football, especially after being part of a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference team that won its first championship last year.
“I hope to lead the program to another championship. I want to break the sack record,” Wheeler said.