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Tyrone Wheatley makes splash, scoring TD with 1st catch

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — On his first collegiate reception, Tyrone Wheatley Jr. scored his first collegiate touchdown.

Wheatley scored on a 21-yard pass from Wilton Speight for the Wolverines’ second touchdown in a 41-8 victory over Illinois on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

“I wanted to keep the football,” Wheatley Jr. said, laughing. “I didn’t let it go for a while. I was holding it and everyone was jumping on me and slugging me in the head and the ref was like, ‘I need the ball.’ I didn’t really want to let it go. I was going to take it to the sideline.”

Tyrone Wheatley, his father, currently is Michigan’s running backs coach. He also is fifth on Michigan’s all-time rushing list, having accumulated 4,178 yards during his career (1991-1994). Wheatley, the 1992 Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year, also is second all-time in rushing touchdowns with 47 (behind Anthony Thomas’ 55).

With Wheatley Jr.’s touchdown on Saturday, the Wheatleys are the first father-son combination since Stan and Braylon Edwards to score touchdowns for the Wolverines.

“He was excited,” Wheatley said of his father, who congratulated him not long after the score. “He said, ‘That’s what we expect, that’s why you’re here. Keep it going.’”

Speight, crushing defense lead Michigan over Illinois

During practice last week, Wheatley Jr., a redshirt freshman, said pass-game coordinator Jedd Fisch approached him about getting more involved in the offense. Until this stage of the season, Wheatley had been utilized as a blocking back, a role he, Ian Bunting and freshman Devin Asiasi share to fill the void left by A.J. Williams after last season.

But Wheatley has good hands. He was a receiver in high school before a growth spurt his junior year. He was an accomplished defensive end and tight end. Wheatley is 6-foot-6, 276 pounds.

“Coach Fisch came up to me and was like, ‘We want to get you a play,”” Wheatley said. “So, he showed me a play and practiced on the side with coach Jay (Harbaugh) a lot this week. And then in the game we got down in the red zone he called it and I was like, ‘Wow, I might score.’ I caught it, and touchdown.”

Senior receiver Amara Darboh said he knew all along Wheatley would score on the play.

“When they put the play in, I knew he was a guy who could not only catch the ball, get open, but he’s a bigger guy who can break tackles and get in the end zone,” Darboh said. “I trusted in him. When they called the play, in my mind I knew it was going to be a touchdown. I didn’t even get as excited because throughout the week I was like, ‘He’s going to score.’ I had the feeling. He’s a bigger body, he has good hands and he breaks tackles. He has a little agility to him, though.”

Wheatley could have played defensive end in college. It was not until he met with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh upon his arrival here that he finally decided he would go the tight end route.

“(Harbaugh said), ‘Look, we didn’t get a tight end in this class. You’re a pretty good tight end would you play tight end for us?’” said Wheatley, who obviously agreed.

He has been absorbing as much as possible from senior Jake Butt, the Big Ten Tight End of the Year last year.

“I’ve learned a lot from Jake,” he said. “Jake’s obviously is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game and every time I take a rep he’s coaching me up like, ‘Your hands here. Your feet need to be faster. Get your hips through.’ I have coach Jay Harbaugh coaching me up and I have Jake on the side helping me out.”

Michigan tight end Tyrone Wheatley pushes away Illinois defensive back Stanley Green while running for a touchdown in the first quarter.