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Penn State Football All 105

Penn State All 105: Zakee Wheatley Looking to Carry Offseason Buzz Through 2024

CHAMPAIGN, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: Penn State Nittany Lions Safety Zakee Wheatley (6) defends during the college football game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Illinois Fighting Illini on September 16, 2023, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State has a talented group of safeties, and Zakee Wheatley is among them.

The fourth-year DB is the subjected in our latest edition of All 105, a Nittany Sports Now Series profiling each Penn State football player.

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 196 pounds

Hometown: Crofton, Maryland

Before Penn State: Zakee Wheatley, a four-star recruit who was Penn State’s fourth-highest rated signee according to 247Sports, came to Penn State after playing at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Maryland. Covid-19 limited Wheatley’s senior season to just two games. But in that time, Wheatley scored two touchdowns and picked off two passes.

In his last full high school season as a junior, Wheatley stood out on defense and offense. He ended the year with five interceptions and caught 56 passes for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. Wheatley’s play got him selected to the Big 33 Game. That’s an All-Star exhibition between the best high school football players in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

At the end of his high school career, Wheatley was rated the 10th best overall player in Maryland by Rivals.com. He also twice lettered in basketball and played baseball his freshman year.

Wheatley has six siblings; four brothers and two sisters.

 

2021: Wheatley redshirted his freshman season, appearing in four games.

2022: Wheatley played in 12 of Penn State’s 13 games. He intercepted two passes and forced a fumble, the latter of which a key play in the team’s season-opening 35-31 win the lights at Purdue. Additionally, Wheatley had 27 tackles (21 solo) and broke up a pass.

2023: Wheatley’s 2023 wasn’t an easy one. Due to a talented safeties room that also featured KJ Winston, Jaylen Reed and Keaton Ellis, over the last seven games of the season, he played a total of 55 snaps. For context, he played 50 at Illinois Week 3. The low-point of his season playing-time wise came against Indiana on the last Saturday of October, when he played just one snap.

But things could be looking up for Wheatley this season.

Where he stands: It’s not clear whether Wheatley will start in 2024 but he helped himself over the offseason. Coach James Franklin called it the best one he’s had. The combination of that, Ellis’ departure (eligibility) and defensive coordinator Tom Allen’s plans for the defense could help Wheatley get a lot more playing time this year. Allen created the “Lion” position, which he describes as a corner/safety hybrid. When Allen last spoke with reporters in March, he said Reed was the front runner for that role. If that happens, Wheatley would likely get on the field a lot more often, pairing witch Winston.

A quote by Wheatley: “I always expect the best out of me, and especially going into last year, I definitely expected that,” Wheatley said over Zoom on Wednesday. “College football is full of ups and downs. It’s full of different roles and routes. As long as you just stay on top, stay focused, I believe that at end of the day, as long as you stay steady and stay the course that everything is going to work out. That’s kind of how I handled it.” — Wheatley to reporters via Zoom last month.

A quote about Wheatley: “I would say that Zakee, right now, is playing his best football by far. And it’s not us (the coaching staff).  It’s just maturity. The light’s gone on for him, and he understands what he has to do on a consistent basis to be the type of player that he wants to be, and it’s pretty cool to see. One of the things that I enjoy the most about doing this now for as long as I’ve been able to do is watching these guys’ journeys and when they start to figure it out, so it’s pretty cool.” — James Franklin to reporters in March

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