Philip Wheeler didn’t tarry Monday morning at Shaw High School. He had a busy schedule, not a lack of appreciation for his alma mater or the reason for his visit.
Wheeler is a second-year linebacker for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, after a stellar career at Georgia Tech. But he is also forever a Shaw Raider, a fact he made clear during his alma mater’s honors program.
“I just want to say hard work pays off,” Wheeler said, as the school retired his black-and-silver No. 91 Shaw jersey. “I want to thank y’all for holding up Shaw’s tradition.”
The retired jersey represents his role in building that tradition. The Raiders were 49-4 during Wheeler’s career (1999-2002) at Shaw, winning four region championships and the 2000 Georgia High School Association Class AAAA championship.
“Philip was a hard charger, and, as a defensive end for us, he was always in the play,” said Shaw coach Scott Newman, who was an assistant on Charles Flower’s staff during Wheeler’s Raider career. “What made him so special was his quickness, which made him about unblockable. He did great things for us.”
Wheeler said having his jersey retired by his alma mater is special, especially because several of the other honorees, such as Nick Long, Edwin Jackson and Steven Register, were his contemporaries at Shaw.
“You dream about things like this as a kid,” Wheeler said.
He said he found out about the honor about a month ago in a telephone call from Newman.
“It’s great to join those other guys (with a jersey retired),” Wheeler said. “I talk to them all the time. They visit me in Indy sometimes, and we just kick it or whatever.”
Wheeler believes he has a good shot at earning a starting spot for the Colts, next season after spending his rookie year on special teams and as a backup.
“Next year, I should be starting, so there should be a lot more playing time and a lot more fun,” he said.
Last year, the Colts’ 2008 third-round draft choice appeared in 16 games and had 17 total tackles, 14 (11 solo) on special teams.
“I’m looking forward to getting started,” he said.