By TOM BRAGG
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University redshirt freshman receiver Bryce Wheaton will admit that he did not think he was physically ready to play college football at a high level when he arrived here last year.
Wheaton, a North Carolina native and third-generation Mountaineer, followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Garrett Ford Sr., and his uncle, Garrett Ford Jr. - along with his mother Tracie, a former WVU track athlete. That kind of legacy can place certain expectations on a young man. Wheaton, however, is not worried about any of that. He is out to forge his own path at West Virginia.
After seeing limited playing time last season and maintaining his redshirt, Wheaton went to work transforming his body to get himself physically right. There were some growing pains during spring practice, but as preseason camp for the 2019 opened Wheaton was clearly a different player than the one who arrived on campus a year ago.
"Bryce Wheaton would be our most improved offensive player from spring ball," WVU coach Neal Brown said. "He had a lot of adversity in spring. He's probably been coached harder than he has before. He got beat a lot. Rather than being sad, he went to work. He was named workout warrior multiple times this summer. He's been really productive in camp."
Wheaton checked in at preseason camp at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. He, along with newcomers such as Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell or Temple transfer Sean Ryan, still waiting to hear back on an appeal to the NCAA for immediate eligibility, figure to give the Mountaineers some size on the outside this season.
"I adapted a different mentality going into workouts now," Wheaton said. "(Strength) coach Mike (Joseph) and the strength staff have done a really good job developing players this year. It was a lot of fun this summer."
Wheaton said he is not worried about competition. He said all of the outside receivers are pushing each other and working together to make the team better.
"Competition really elevates everyone's game," Wheaton said. "We don't go against each other, we push each other so everybody can be great. Sean Ryan, me and Sean are battling right now, I coach him up and he coaches me up and we feed off each other. We don't want to see each other fail or anything like that.
"I can learn some things from them, especially George coming from Florida State. He has a little bit more experience than all of us and he'll tell us some things he went through so we can get better."
That work is starting to show up in West Virginia's practices. After a so-so first day last week, Brown said Wheaton really came on strong over the weekend and has been one of the standouts of the new-look Mountaineer receiving corps.
"He's made catches on contested balls the last three practices," Brown said Monday. "The first practice was a little slow, on 50-50 balls he didn't make the play but the last three day he caught those contested balls. He's as talented as anyone we have in our program."