- Kevin Gemmell, College Football
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The Pac-12 wide receiver hierarchy probably looks a little something like this: Robert Woods, Marqise Lee (feel free to flip-flop those two at your leisure), Keenan Allen, Marquess Wilson. Some pretty elite guys.
That's usually followed with an: "Oh yeah, doesn't Oregon State have a guy that's pretty good, too?"
"Haha, yeah, that sounds about right," says Markus Wheaton with a chuckle.
To the folks in Corvallis, he's a bona fide superstar. But in a conference that will probably own the Biletnikoff Award this year, separating yourself as a superstar in a pack of superstars isn't always easy.
"I try not to worry about that stuff," Wheaton said. "I'm more focused on what we've got here."
It's got to bruise the ego even a little bit, though. Right?
"Not really. It just makes you want to work harder," Wheaton said.
Wheaton was definitely a victim of the Beavers' lack of success last season. He only found the end zone once, but caught 73 balls for 986 yards and was the ultimate security blanket for green quarterback Sean Mannion.
"If we won nine games last year like we did a couple of years ago, more people would know about him," said OSU head coach Mike Riley. "That's a big factor. I think our team will be better next year and that will help. He just needs to keep growing and doing what he does. Then our team needs to improve around him."
Mannion showed tremendous potential in his first season as a starter -- throwing for 16 touchdowns, more than 3,300 yards and completing 64.5 percent of his balls. He also looked like a first-year starter, tossing 18 interceptions.
With a more efficient Mannion and a stronger running game to support the passing attack, Wheaton figures to make the jump from "that Oregon State guy" to being known as one of the elite receivers in the conference.
"For me, it's all about working on the small things," Wheaton said. "I've worked on my blocking, because I want that to be a big part of my game. But for us, it's going to be the details. Too many times last year the little things got away from us. This year's team is going to be very detail-oriented."
Riley recalls when Wheaton first came to OSU. He was pure speed, without much nuance for the position. Now he's evolved to a point where Riley considers him in that top class of Pac-12 receivers.
"He can run with anybody, catch with anybody and has great ability to run with the ball after the catch," said Riley -- who also integrates Wheaton into the running game. Last year he carried 25 times for 7.6 yards per carry. "He's just a fast, gifted athlete. Early on for him, it was just run. Now he's learned how to run a route and he's got good chemistry with the quarterback."
Wheaton is not a particularly vocal guy. That's something he's working on. He knows the very youthful Beavers roster is thirsty for leadership. He's raising his voice more, but wants his teammates to learn by his example.
"I'm consistently pushing him," OSU wide receivers coach Brent Brennan said recently. "And the best thing about him is he wants to be coached. He wants to be better. He wants to learn. He wants to improve his game. I'm constantly in his ear, on his butt about what's right, what's not right, what can be faster, what his tendencies are ... he continues to learn and improve."
The Pac-12 wide receiver hierarchy probably looks a little something like this: Robert Woods, Marqise Lee (feel free to flip-flop those two at your leisure), Keenan Allen, Marquess Wilson.