His Name Is Earl
Junior LB Joshua Wheeler, AKA Earl, Embraces His Country Roots
By: Luke Della
DENTON -- As an early season practice came to an end and North Texas football players walked off the Darrell R. Dickey football practice field, junior Joshua Wheeler got stopped by his position teammates Brandon Garner and Cortney Finney.
The three Mean Green linebackers discussed situational plays. When they finished, Garner and Finney ran ahead. But before getting too far, Garner turned back around and called out “thank you Earl.”
At that same moment, senior linebacker Fred Scott was talking to reporters about how the addition of Wheeler, a Tyler Junior College transfer, has played a role in North Texas’ defensive improvement from last year. He went on to say that Wheeler’s now 22 tackles and team-leading 3.5 sacks were a product of his hard work.
“He’s a great football player and an even better person,” Scott later said. “He’s a good guy to have on your team, because he makes everyone around you better.”
“I don’t know why we call him Earl, though,” Scott added, perplexed.
In fact, many North Texas football players have no idea why they call Wheeler “Earl.” But that’s what most know him by.
“I don’t know where or why it got started,” Garner said. “But for as long as he’s been on the team that’s what people have been calling him.”
Unlike a lot of his teammates, Wheeler grew up in the country, hunting and fishing. After graduating high school, Wheeler attended and played for Tyler. Surprised by his background, his TJC teammates gave him the nickname that they felt fit his country roots. Two years later, the nickname “Earl” has stuck and despite not knowing its origin most of his North Texas teammates have kept the name alive.
“I think it’s pretty funny,” Wheeler said. “I like Josh more but I think the nickname is good.”
Wheeler claims to be the best hunter and fisherman on the North Texas team, but teammates such as running back Jeffery Wilson beg to differ. Through seven games, Wheeler has been a hunter on defense. Along with his 22 tackles and 3.5 sacks, the linebacker is tied for third on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with two forced fumbles.
After two seasons at Tyler, Wheeler had racked up 25 sacks, and he was ranked by recruiting sites as a top-15 junior college player in Texas. His success earned him a scholarship to play for the Mean Green.
It didn’t take long for the transfer to see a difference between the two levels of college football.
“The game is a lot faster, and a few plays into our first game I had to take a step back and collect myself,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler described his first division I play from scrimmage against SMU as if he had crossed the railroad tracks of an oncoming freight train. His eyes lit up while recalling the play, and as he looked off into the distance you could feel his heart racing.
When talking about the off the field differences between junior college and North Texas, a different light shined in his eyes.
“I’m so thankful to be here,” Wheeler said. “I get my education paid for and I get to play football. Everything is so nice, and I feel special here.”
He explained how junior college felt as if he was still in high school. The facilities weren’t as nice and sometimes your relationship with teammates could be strained due to the battle for playing time and scholarships.
“I have nothing to complain about,” Wheeler said. “I’m lucky to be here.”
Texas Ranger Earl
Surprisingly, football wasn’t Wheeler’s first love. The 6-foot-2 linebacker grew up a baseball fan and cheers for the Texas Rangers.
As he got older he chose to focus on football as he saw more of a future in it. But still believes he could play the outfield with the best of them.
He says Josh Hamilton was his favorite player as a kid and he’s been hurting ever since the Rangers let Hamilton go.
“Hamilton was the man,” Wheeler said with a big smile. “If I played I’d want to be a player like him — a stud. They’d call me Earl Hamilton.”