Indian quarterback follows in father's footsteps
Osage senior Zach Wheeler has always felt at home on a football field.
It was a feeling he was not ready to let go of and the senior decided to extend his presence on the gridiron for a little longer after signing with Division II William Jewell on Thursday afternoon amongst his family, friends and coaches.
"Everyone is telling me that I'm never going to get that Friday night feeling of high school football ever again, but I'm hoping that college experience will be amazing for me still and give me the same rush of nervousness and excitement," Wheeler said.
"I just can't thank William Jewell enough for everything they've done for me, everything they are going to do for me and just giving me the opportunity to continue my football career. It has been a dream of mine."
Wheeler started his football journey around the age of six playing flag football and he soon discovered that he had a knack for tossing the pigskin around. He has been playing quarterback ever since and has kept a competitive edge, always doing everything in his power to help his team win games.
"I've always been a little bit of a leader on the field so it came naturally, is the best way to put it," the quarterback said of his role.
"I've been trying to do the best for my teammates. Just try and go out and win games and prove that I deserve to be on the field. I just feel like I've always been playing with a chip on my shoulder and have something to prove, so that is the way I played my games. Just go out and help the team as much as I can."
Osage coach Devin Johnson said Wheeler has been able to do just that and one thing he particularly enjoys about his job is seeing how players progress from their freshman to senior season. He enjoys seeing how their character, personality and physical ability develop and the opportunity to witness his players become the men they are going to be.
Some of those players go on to play football at the collegiate level while continuing their education and the coach is always glad to see any instance where hard work pays off.
"It is nice knowing that you put in enough time and effort and they are going to continue something they enjoy and love so much and a sport they love being around that they want to continue that at the next level," he said. "College sports is tough and there is a very small percentage that go on to play in college. So, anytime we have anyone that makes that leap and makes that commitment, it is always gratifying as a coach knowing that we hopefully did a little bit to put them in the right position."
Wheeler was no exception. A three-year starter for the Osage, the 6-foot-4 quarterback had his ups and downs, but always strived to turn any negative into a positive and that is what Johnson looks for in every player.
“Whenever he was young, he allowed mistakes to bother him. Then, as he developed and progressed his senior year, something we worked on a lot was just him being able to bounce back that next play,” the coach recalled. “His ability to keep his head up through the negative plays and create something special that next play is something we preach a lot in our program and something he was able to bring to the table.”
However, that was not all Wheeler brought to the table. In his three years under center he finished with a record of 19-13, winning about 60 percent of his games, and earned Tri-County All-Conference and All-District honors twice.
He also earned himself a spot amongst those in the Osage record books. Among individual season records, Wheeler was fifth in passing yards (1,946), third in passing touchdowns (21) and fourth in total yards (2,052). In the span of his career, you’ll find Wheeler’s name third in total yards (6,083), second in passing attempts (662), second in passing yards (5,227) and second in passing touchdowns (59). The only quarterback ahead of him in most of those categories was 2014 graduate Austin Riley.
Johnson has no doubt in the type of player the Cardinals are getting in someone who can chuck the ball 55 to 60 yards downfield.
“It is a tough position to play, there is a lot of leadership that goes with that position and all the eyes are on you on the offensive side of the football,” the coach said of the quarterback position. “He has really developed into a good dynamic quarterback He has all the tools you need to play at the next level because a lot of colleges will not even look at you at that position if you are under 6-foot-2.
“He is lucky to have the physical tools and what he was able to do in his career was win a lot of ballgames, be highly successful and put up some pretty big numbers that brought some attention to him.”
William Jewell was one of those schools and it just happened to be the same school where Wheeler’s father, Reed, played linebacker for the Cardinals. Familial ties may have played a little bit of a factor, but for Wheeler there was a lot to like about the school in Liberty near Kansas City.
“William Jewell has a great campus and great history and the school is just amazing,” he said.
Wheeler said he is undecided at this time in his plan of study. On the football field, he will join the team as a quarterback, but he may be moved to a different position if he is a better fit elsewhere.
“I’m just looking forward to learning the offense. It is a complex system and I’m just hoping that I can do my part and hopefully earn a starting job,” the senior stated.
What he learned at Osage might help him be able to do just that. Looking back on his time with the Indians, Wheeler said it was all about composure.
“To stay composed on the field all the time and keep everyone around me composed because if I look scared, then everyone else is going to be scared,” the quarterback said of one of his key lessons. “Stay composed and keep everybody cool.”
Johnson can certainly attest for that composure and it will be one of the things he may miss the most about the quarterback. The coach said it is always tough to see his guys go, whether they continue to play football or not, and Wheeler has definitely made an impact.
“Zach has left a pretty big mark in what School of the Osage is from a football standpoint,” he noted. “Whenever he is around, everyone kind of knows and he just a presence about him whether it is on the football field or basketball court. Dynamic things happen whenever he is around with he ball in his hands.”
Wheeler will certainly not forget his coaches either.
“I’m going to miss my coaches most of all. They’ve helped me through anything and everything I have asked of them,” the senior pointed out. “They are the best coaches around.”
He also left some parting words of advice for his younger teammates who will suit up for the Indians next fall.
“Go win some games. We had a rough year last year and I really think the next group of guys coming up has a great chance to do something amazing,” he said. “Just go prove what you’re made of.”
The kid who has always played with a chip on his shoulder will look to do the same when the Cardinals of William Jewell take the field this fall.