By Rob Moseley
Venue: Autzen Stadium
As an out-of-state student who happened to be a walk-on with the UO football team, redshirt freshman punter Ian Wheeler had some concerns about the viability of returning to the Ducks for a second season this fall.
Wheeler paid his dues in practice last season while redshirting, when the Demorest, Ga., native and his family paid their own way at the university. Coming into 2014, Wheeler had discussions with his family and UO coach Mark Helfrich about how to make the arrangement work for another year.
On Monday, Wheeler had a meeting with Helfrich about the subject. It went as well as the punter could have hoped – not only was he listed atop the depth chart for Saturday’s season opener against South Dakota (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks), but Wheeler found out he was also granted a scholarship.
“It was just awesome,” Wheeler said Thursday, following the Ducks’ walk-through for the game.
Wheeler entered this month fighting for reps with placekicker Matt Wogan, but quickly gained an edge in that competition. He’s been extremely consistent throughout August; though he may not have the same leg strength, Wheeler’s hang time and placement have been good.
That stems in part from work Wheeler put in over the summer in consultation with former UO and NFL punter Josh Bidwell, who has dropped in on practice from time to time. Wheeler also studied film of punters he admires, such as former Georgia all-American Drew Butler.
“Just kind of looking at some tendencies across the board, what everybody’s doing, and trying to mimic how they punt,” Wheeler said. “It’s just kind of worked for me.”
If all goes well for the Ducks, there will be no need Saturday to call on Wheeler, who also is the backup holder on placekicks. But whether it’s this week or another, he’ll soon make his first collegiate punt in Autzen Stadium, as a scholarship member of the UO football team.
“The biggest thing is just to stay relaxed,” Wheeler said. “In this environment, it’s so easy to get hyped, especially with how fast the team plays. I just need to stay relaxed and perform.”
Other observations: Keeping with the schedule from the last few years, the Ducks held their walk-through today, and will follow with a more up-tempo “Fast Friday” tomorrow. No highlights to offer, then. … Former UO defensive lineman Romeo Bandison (1990-93) dropped in on practice. … Outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander was away for the birth of a child.