Through it all, Archbishop Spalding’s top receiver Zakee Wheatley has managed to find a way to stay focused on the main prize.
The Class of 2021 receiver is a four-star recruit, per 247Sports’ composite rating, and boasts offers from Penn State, Maryland, Northwestern, Boston College, Liberty, Massachusetts, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. Wheatley, who also plays for the Charm City Elite 7-on-7 program in the spring, also ranked as the 15th-best player in his class in Maryland.
He hasn’t allowed the amount of offers to go to his head.
“When it happens, when I get the call and everything like that, I’m very happy. But right after that, I’m thinking about the game,” Wheatley said. “Second of all, my dad doesn’t allow me to get a big head or anything. I’m forced to work and even without the offers, I would work hard regardless.
“Offers are a blessing, but the goal is to win a championship [in the fall] and that’s really what I’m focusing on this year.”
Wheatley has built himself into one of the best players in the state through staying committed to his craft. One can find him on the field during practice working on his pass routes, doing his footwork drills and challenging his teammates to become better.
The determination and confidence have been demonstrated since his sophomore year at Spalding.
“Last year when I was a sophomore, I wasn’t starting,” Wheatley said. “So, I had to get my confidence up, but now, I know what I can do. When I get the ball in my hands, I’m just like, ‘I feel confident and ready.' That’s the main thing for me.”
The rising senior has had a number of people in his corner to support him and keep him on the right track. The main focus is to win an MIAA A Conference title, but the secondary focus is to become a better player and hone his skills.
Each of his coaches holds him accountable to be the best player that he can be.
“The thing that I feel good about our kids and a kid like Zakee is we’ve been able to be really honest with him about his positives and his shortcomings,” said Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt. "That’s something that we take a lot of pride in our program. We don’t really hold onto things or push them aside because they would upset a player, parent or a coach.”
Wheatley had a successful junior campaign for Spalding with 56 catches for 803 yards and seven touchdowns. His best game came against Malvern Prep in a 46-12 win where he caught 10 balls for 197 yards and a touchdown. With the numbers have come recognition from college programs.
His sense of commitment to winning, however, trumps it all, Schmitt said.
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“He’s just a committed kid,” he said. “That’s all that you want as a coach and there are so many challenges these days with guys who have so much going on that have the offers and things, that have camp circuits, all-star tryouts and personal coaches — all he’s done is commit to our program since Day 1 and that’s a thrill for us.”
While Wheatley also works on his craft in practice, he constantly trains with Ferron Carter, who runs Dynamic Specialized Performance, a sports performance facility located in Halethorpe. In the workouts, Wheatley often leads the way by assisting other young athletes.
“Zakee is a very talented athlete that puts in the time and effort to be the best during every workout,” Carter said. “All the young men in my workouts love the energy and leadership that he brings every day.”
Since ending his season, Wheatley has trimmed his list of teams to Northwestern, Pitt, Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wisconsin. Virginia also signed his teammate, defensive tackle Jahmeer Carter.
“First off all, I want to thank all the schools and coaches that have recruited me,” said Wheatley in a message on Twitter. “It has always been my dream to play D1 football and I am thankful to God for the opportunity. Obviously, I cannot go to all of the schools that offered me, and to be fair, so that schools can focus on other athletes they are pursuing, I want to post the top 8 schools that my family and I are focusing on right now.