Wheeler having big season with Big Green

Dartmouth College football player Jared Dowdakin answered a phone call from a reporter Friday night asking him about teammate Tim Wheeler. "Is this a joke?" Dowdakin said. It's no joke. Wheeler, a 2004 Duluth East graduate, has had a season worth...

Dartmouth College football player Jared Dowdakin answered a phone call from a reporter Friday night asking him about teammate Tim Wheeler.

"Is this a joke?" Dowdakin said.

It's no joke. Wheeler, a 2004 Duluth East graduate, has had a season worth writing about for the Big Green this season. The 6-foot-4, 298-pound senior lineman helped open holes for Dartmouth running backs Nate Servis and Rob Mitchelson. Both rushed for more than 100 yards as the Big Green downed Columbia 37-28 for a homecoming victory before 8,720 on Saturday in Hanover, N.H. That's the first time two Dartmouth rushers have topped 100 yards in the same game in 45 years.

Wheeler has started every game at right guard this season after filling in mostly in spot duty his first three years.

"I was always kind of like the sixth man, so to move into a full-time starting role this year has been awesome," Wheeler said. "I got a chance to start some games my sophomore and junior years due to injuries to other guys, and once you get a taste of that, nothing else quite lives up to it. That's what you live for."


At East, Wheeler was a two-time News Tribune all-area selection who helped pave the way for teammate Chris Siljendahl to rush for a school-record 2,211 yards in being named the News Tribune's 2003 football player of the year. Wheeler also earned five letters in skiing, where he competed on three state-qualifying alpine teams.

"Our starting center [Dowdakin] is 290 pounds and he made it to the Illinois state swim meet, and we had another lineman who was like a California state tennis champion," Wheeler said. "It's much better to be big and athletic than just big. Some of the guys still have a hard time believing that a 6-4, 300-pound guy can ski. Killington [Ski Resort] is only about 45 minutes from here, so I'm still planning on taking them up there and showing them that it's no joke."

Dartmouth, an Ivy League school with an enrollment of 4,300, is a non-athletic scholarship Football Championship Subdivision program (formerly Division I-AA). At Dartmouth, students come from all over, so having someone from Minnesota isn't unusual. Wheeler said more Dartmouth students hail from California, New York or Texas than from New Hampshire.

Wheeler had two cousins attend Dartmouth in the 1990s, but he knew little about the school before visiting Hanover in summer 2003.

He loved it.

The rolling hills, lakes, rivers and pines reminded him of the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior.

"It felt like home," Wheeler said.

Dartmouth has presented its share of challenges. Wheeler said tuition is roughly $45,000 a year, and, like all Ivy League schools, the coursework can be difficult. Even so, the history major has maintained a 3.6 grade-point average while juggling school with football. He expects to graduate in June and would eventually like to return to Minnesota.


"I got an Xbox 360 for my birthday earlier this month and I've barely even taken it out of the box yet," Wheeler said, laughing. "It can get pretty hectic, especially in the fall, but if you can manage your time, it's really not too bad."

After starting the final four games his junior year, Dartmouth coaches told Wheeler the Big Green's starting right guard spot was his to lose. Knowing he would start, he worked even harder in the offseason, getting his bench press up to about 360 pounds and his squat to 450 pounds. Some of the chubbiness he had as a prep player was replaced with muscle.

The hard work paid off as Wheeler was named Dartmouth's most improved offensive lineman during spring practice and has been having an all-conference-caliber year for the Big Green (2-4, 2-1 Ivy League), according to Dowdakin, a three-year starting lineman.

One can't blame Dowdakin for being skeptical after being asked about Wheeler. Offensive linemen rarely get headlines, and Big Green seniors have been playing a joke on the team's freshmen.

"Some of the guys were calling the freshmen pretending to be the local newspaper," Dowdakin said. "But sometimes they get us back."

Once assured it was a News Tribune reporter and not a Dartmouth prankster, Dowdakin was happy to talk about his teammate, who he called a "big, jolly fellow."

"Tim is the classic Midwest kind of nice, but he can be a little bitter when he needs to be, and that's good for the way he plays," said Dowdakin, who roomed in the dorms with Wheeler as a sophomore. "He's an extremely physical player. He fits the mold for how an offensive lineman should be. He loves to punish the kid across from him, and that's what makes him a great player.

"There are kids who quit every year and kids who don't make it through all four years, but the kids who stick around are going to be winners. Tim stuck it out four years because he loves the game, and now it's great to see it paying off for him. He's just playing phenomenally -- all-Ivy caliber."


JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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