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Wheeler Makes His Return

Since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2007, Sam Wheeler won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end and Virginia Tech captured its first national championship. This, of course, all occurred on the video games Wheeler played “to get my mind off not being there with the team” while he recovered.

But in a 52-10 win over Marshall on Saturday, Wheeler made his first start since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Georgia Tech on Nov. 1, 2007. And he made an impression.

“I’m proud of Sam,” Coach Frank Beamer said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “He came in there and did a heck of a job blocking and assignment wise. He came in and helped our football team.”

Wheeler did not have any receptions and no passes were thrown his way against the Thundering Herd. Before missing time with the injury, he was a nice target for the Hokies because of his sure hands. He performed well at the start of the 2007 season.

In his return on Saturday, Wheeler showed his value as a blocker in two tight end formations with Andre Smith. The Hokies rushed for 444 yards. Beamer even pointed out a key block Wheeler made that helped spring one of Ryan Williams’s three touchdowns.

“He played really, really well,” Beamer said. “He kind of hit another tempo you like to see.”

Wheeler missed most of the 2007 season because of the knee injury. That was when he developed an Xbox habit that consumed his time; there was not much else he could do. During the time when he could not work out, he said, he felt disconnected from the Hokies but tried to stay in touch with his teammates through text messages.

Last year, Wheeler was used on the scout team, as the Hokies' fourth tight end, and played on special teams units. During that time, he worked on his blocking and route running. He analyzed old film to find the flaws in his game.

Although Wheeler said his knee is still not as flexible as it once was, he said he felt almost completely healthy and back to full speed. In fact, he says he is a better player now.

“It is a negative, but you have to take it and turn it into a positive,” Wheeler said of his injury. “You have to show, yeah, I was missing for a season and half but I didn’t lose anything from when I was playing before I was hurt.”

No. 13 Virginia Tech (1-1) hosts No. 19 Nebraska (2-0) on Saturday.

By Mark Viera  |  September 16, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
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