The thought of continuing his football career at the college level seemed like a distant goal for Cody Wheeler not too long ago.
Wheeler didn’t make the varsity team until his junior year at Allen, a loaded Class 5A program where tradition runs deep and the talent on the depth chart often runs even deeper.
Once Wheeler got his chance to shine, he capitalized on it and established himself as a major-college prospect in a whirlwind year.
The highlight of that year came Saturday when the senior offensive lineman committed to North Texas.
“I got the hang of it toward the end of the year,” Wheeler said of playing at the varsity level. “At Allen, there are guys who play three years on JV and other guys who never play on varsity. There is a lot of talent. It really is a neat situation. I had no idea this would happen to me.”
Wheeler, who is 6-4 and 295 pounds, is projected as a guard at the college level but will play center for Allen this year.
UNT offensive line coach Mike Simmonds and special teams coordinator/running backs coach Tommy Perry recruited Wheeler, who also had scholarship offers from New Mexico, Yale, Lafayette and Sam Houston State.
Oral commitments are nonbinding. The first day recruits in the class of 2015 can sign national letters of intent is Feb. 4.
Wheeler was among a handful of recruits UNT made top priorities and hosted on visits earlier this summer. The time Wheeler spent on campus convinced him that UNT was the right place for him to play in college.
“When I came to North Texas, it felt like home,” Wheeler said. “I love the coaching staff and it’s close to home. My parents can come and see me play. Coach Simmonds is similar to my offensive line coach Mike Carter at Allen. Coach Carter is like a second father to me.”
Wheeler followed UNT’s progress during a breakout 9-4 season that ended with a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and was impressed with the Mean Green’s offensive line.
UNT allowed 17 sacks the last two years combined, which ranks as the lowest total in major college football.
Several of the players who helped UNT excel the last two years will be seniors this fall, including preseason All-Conference USA guards Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo. The situation was appealing to Wheeler.
“Coach Simmonds has done a great job,” Wheeler said. “They are having a lot of guys who are graduating. I will get a chance to play early.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that Wheeler wondered if he would play on the college level at all while toiling behind the previous generation of Allen standouts, including Brad North.
North signed with Northwestern and passed on his No. 69 jersey to Wheeler, who took advantage of his opportunity to start for Allen. Wheeler now will have a chance to play in college as well.
“I love how North Texas is close to home and that the program has turned around,” Wheeler said. “I also like coach Perry and coach Simmonds. They made me feel like I would be a big part of the team.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.