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Thursday, January 12, 2012
Early enrollee profile No. 4: Chad Wheeler

By Pedro Moura

Going along with our end-of-year lists that looked at the top performers from the 2011 season and the top questions facing USC in 2012, we're now profiling each of the five early enrollees expected to begin classes at USC this spring, continuing through Friday.

We began Monday with No. 1 was safety Gerald Bowman, a product of nearby Pierce College. No. 2 was defensive end Morgan Breslin of Diablo Valley College; No. 3 was Norco linebacker Scott Starr. No. 4 is Santa Monica lineman Chad Wheeler.

One thing you should know about Chad Wheeler right off the bat: He's vegetarian.

He's 6-6 and 260 pounds and vegetarian. Seriously.

Wheeler is a project for sure, but it's easy to see his potential to be an impact player at the college level. His frame looks like it hasn't come close to reaching its peak, and he didn't even play his first two years at Santa Monica High. But the USC coaching staff saw enough of him to offer him a spot in the Trojans' 2012 recruiting class -- if he was able to qualify academically to enroll early, of course.

He appears to have qualified and should be available to participate in spring practice with the Trojans beginning in March.

Where does he fit? Some sources had him as a strongside defensive end in the recruiting process, but the truth is there aren't many 6-6, 270-pound defensive ends at the college level, and he'll probably be at least 270 pounds by the time he gets going with USC's strength and conditioning systems.

He played both end and offensive tackle in high school, and the latter spot is where he'll likely end up at USC. Think of him as a right tackle of the future, assuming Kevin Graf stays there in 2012 and sophomore Aundrey Walker wins the left starting spot in spring practice or fall camp.

Have Wheeler redshirt a year and then sit for another season, and he could be a starting candidate at right tackle when Graf leaves following the 2013 season. That makes the most sense.

Of course, many said it made the most sense for Marqise Lee to start out as a safety, so you never know. Wheeler could end up an end or a really-tall interior offensive lineman.

But he's certainly a project, and an intriguing one at that.

Check back Friday for our series-concluding profile of DeVante Wilson.