just found out he
There… it's out there now.
To Wheeler, who was a tenacious defensive tackle at East Carolina from 1966-70, it's just the way it is and it's something he will take on the only way he knows how - directly.
"I'm not the only person to have had (cancer)," he
"And I'm not the only one who will beat it."
And that's all Wheeler had to say about that.
To know George Wheeler
, it seems, is to know true determination and an immense love of the game of football.
"Coach (Henry) VanSant recruited me out of a very small mill town in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley," Wheeler said.
"Football was my life… really," Wheeler
Getting a scholarship was a huge deal for Wheeler
"My dad was a plumber and I'll never forget that time," he
And (the day Wheeler
signed the scholarship) my mother (Francis), was a proud lady… very proud."
rejoiced inside that his
dream would come true.
And when he
visited the East Carolina campus, the excitement was driven home.
"Campus… it was the biggest place I had ever been in my life," Wheeler
Overwhelmed with his new surroundings, Wheeler was equally impressed with his new coach.
(Clarence Stasavich) Stas?
I was mesmerized by him.
was a legend," Wheeler
But it was the impact that VanSant first had on Wheeler
that established the beginnings of what would be a stellar career.
With the fear of VanSant instilled in the young Wheeler
, it became abundantly clear very quickly that the diatribe was not mere lip service.
"We had these two GAs (graduate assistant coaches)," Wheeler
is quick to point out that the varsity Pirates were not slouches with players like Kevin Moran, who was "as good as any ever to play" and Jim Flowe who was a "fantastic player.
Also, guys like tailback Neil Hughes, whom Wheeler
considered as simply "the best player, pound-for-pound, that I ever saw in my lifetime" and Billy Whiteman who was "another unbelievable tailback."
"We were truly a great team," Wheeler
The success carried forward for Wheeler
came to know, firsthand, the fire in Stasavich.
"My sophomore year, we opened at William and Mary
Though it is obvious how much Stasavich and VanSant influenced the young Wheeler
, it was another teacher that, perhaps, set him on his true course.
Where Martinez helped Wheeler
ability to be more as a student, it was Coach Stasavich
who forced him to become a man.
"I hate to say this, but I failed out of school as a freshman," he
"I was chasing women, drinking beer, and playing football.
I remember I needed to complete five hours of Bs and an hour of an A in order to maintain eligibility.
I had no money for summer school, so, since I was the man, I walked into Coach Stas'
office and asked him if he
would pay for summer school."
wasn't the man.
"Stas looked at me and said, 'You're a dummy,'" Wheeler
"I always would stand up to him and I said, 'I'm your starter, coach.' And he
said, 'No, you're my flunked out lineman.
Boy, you can't make it here… you need to go to Vietnam.'"
Stasavich shook Wheeler
up with that one and went on to tell his
player that he
had half the summer to work and earn enough money to pay for second session and then earn the grades.
"I worked on this steel roof crew and ended up with blisters from elbows to hands," he
Wheeler graduated in 1971 from Graduate School and couldn't resist the lure of coaching.
And, ending two years ago after retiring, Wheeler
has had some amazing experiences as a 29-year coach.
retired in 2000 after a decade at South Carolina State University, where he
coached the likes of Robert Porcher and Chartric Darby.
path to his
final coaching assignment contained a number of great experiences, starting with a stint at North Carolina A&T University
"I was really nervous about that job," Wheeler said, recognizing that if he were to commit to A&T, he would be the first-ever white coach at the predominantly black school in Greensboro.
"I called Coach Stas
for advice, and all he
would say is, 'It's a college coaching job, right?' And, I'd say, 'Yes sir.' And Coach Stas would say, 'You want to be a college coach, right?' And, I'd say, 'Yes sir.' And Coach would say, 'Then, what's the problem?'
was trying to get me to say that I was worried about being the only white coach.
I got the point and I took the job."
After success at A&T, Wheeler headed for an interview at the University of Arkansas with then-head coach Lou Holts, where fate would intervene in many ways.
Florence, who is now the rock of support for Wheeler
battle to beat cancer, has her
own place in history.
To talk to Wheeler
, it becomes quickly apparent that he
and Florence have a special marriage.
Even in recounting his
is clearly an avid fan - of her
coach, if not the sport he
loves so much.
players at S.C. State. (Photo from SCSU SID.)
Holts and Arkansas were just too good to turn down, so Wheeler
made the play.
Holts is the greatest coach I have ever had the pleasure to work with," Wheeler
is an educator and a excellent tactician.
It doesn't surprise me one bit (the success his
former mentor went on to have at Notre Dame
and now South Carolina).
is a great friend and that staff at Arkansas was one of the greatest I have been around."
Wheeler then moved, in 1978, to the Midwest to join Warren Powers' University of Missouri staff where he coached until 1982, before giving the professional ranks a try.
In 1983, Wheeler
went to the USFL to coach the defensive line for friend Chuck Fairbanks with the New Jersey Generals, where he
got the pleasure to help mentor former Georgia great Herschel Walker.
"Well, I didn't really coach him," Wheeler
Along with coaching great players, the New Jersey Generals also gave Wheeler
his first taste of the worst of football when Manhattan mogul Donald Trump bought the team.
That was enough to make Wheeler
yearn to be back in the college ranks, so he
returned to Missouri and coached on Woody Widenhofer's
Eventually, he landed in South Carolina, where he joined the staff at South Carolina State and decided to make his permanent home.
"I have been probably one of the most demanding football coaches who ever coached," Wheeler
said of his
players and his
former coaches and teammates for ALL of his
"My life has been like a piece of driftwood going down a stream," he
Today, despite his
still feels he
has been blessed.
And, like a true Pirate, he
"I've just started the long haul with this chemotherapy," he
GEORGE WHEELER BIO BOX
George Wheeler (None)