He's been a Georgia Bulldog for three years.
But 2006 may be the year Danny Verdun Wheeler becomes a top Dawg.
Georgia's Danny Verdun Wheeler, left, tries to track down West Virginia quarterback Pat White during the Sugar Bowl at the Georgia Dome.
Photo by Michael Holahan/Morris News Service
"I think I've got to step into a leadership role with Tony (Taylor) and Jarvis (Jackson)," said the Junior from Thomson following Georgia's 31-28 loss to West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl Monday night.
"We feel like these linebackers are going to be the leaders on defense next year, and we've got to step into that role. I'm really fired up and looking forward to starting practice again."
Verdun Wheeler started nine games for the Bulldogs during the 2005 season, including the Sugar Bowl loss. And he got lots and lots of valuable experience at the various linebacker positions in Georgia's defensive schemes. He had 59 tackles in 12 games during the regular season.
"The great thing about Danny is he's a very versatile kid for us and can play all three (LB) positions," said Georgia Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez. "That helped us throughout the year when he had injuries. That's a plus. He was like a (jack of all trades) so to speak. He can play all areas."
Monday night's Sugar Bowl was the third bowl game for Verdun Wheeler. Georgia almost beat West Virginia after coming back from an early 28-point deficit.
"Everything started out fast and we didn't come to match the tempo early on," he said. "It settled down, and we kind of got back our groove. But we just didn't capitalize and finish."
Verdun Wheeler said he hopes the Dawgs learned something from the BCS loss.
"Learn to come to play from the first down," he said. "‚Ä¶I felt like we were a little too relaxed tonight."
And he sees the loss as motivation for next season.
"You want to win every game, and losing the last game always leaves a nasty taste in your mouth until next year," he said. "We're going to have the whole offseason to think about this loss and we're going to prepare ourselves and come out next year with a vengeance. We've got a lot of stuff to do and a lot of people to pay back and a lot of goals and got to keep it pointing ahead next year."
One thing the defense will have to deal with is the loss of Seniors Greg Blue, Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter.
"They set a high standard and a good mode on us," Verdun Wheeler said. "We've got a lot of juniors coming up going to be seniors and the way they left the positions for us, and it won't be no problem for us to play to the same intensity, same level. You couldn't ask for no better leaders than this senior class. People counted us out, and we were in the Sugar Bowl."
Martinez said he's looking forward to seeing how the younger players step up.
"The good thing about it is they've seen the success that these guys have had and they want to better it and not be a letdown," he said.
"‚Ä¶We had some really good senior leadership this year and the good news is that (the returning players) were a part of it and saw them lead. We're going to be defending SEC champs, and they're a part of that."
And that may be enough motivation to prove the naysayers wrong again in 2006.
"I think it will be the same thing next year," Verdun Wheeler said. "A lot of people will count us out again, but our coaching staff is too good and players demand too much from each other to be a 5-6 team or something like that."