ATHENS, Ga. - Danny Verdun Wheeler's wheels make a distinct statement the linebacker from Thomson aspires to live up to as a junior at Georgia.
The "old school" 1970 Pontiac Catalina - the same model featured in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - conveys muscle.
Danny Verdun Wheeler poses with his 1970 Pontiac Catalina. Wheeler got the car about a year ago and has spent time working on the engine, having bodywork done and customizing the interior.
Todd Bennett/Morris News Service
The solid black exterior and the custom chrome rims exude self-confidence.
The Bulldog colored interior - with his jersey number "42" prominently displayed in the headrests and the logo "G's" on the back seats - screams "Look at me!"
The title, which he bought off his father, in the glove box expresses his independence.
"I pretty much got it to where I like it now," Verdun Wheeler said of his ride. "I get the stare all the time. People talk and know I'm really representing Georgia."
This car represents Verdun Wheeler as well. It's not quite the dream car he's always wanted - he still covets a late ‚Äò60s Dodge Charger similar to the muscle car made famous by The Dukes of Hazzard - but it's on the right road.
"I'm into big engines and motors," he said. "They don't build cars like that anymore, with that much muscle power straight out of the factory."
Verdun Wheeler is expected to be a vital cog in the Bulldogs defense, which sports a lot of new faces in positions vacated by marquee talent. Versatile enough to play any position in the linebacking corps, Verdun Wheeler is working his way back from injury, playing most recently on the strong side.
Verdun Wheeler poses with his 1970 Pontiac Catalina
Todd Bennett/Morris News Service
"I've been learning more and now I'm preparing more," he said, mentioning goals he has in mind of 10 to 14 tackles and at least one impact turnover per game.
Don't be standing anywhere near his Catalina if you're one who believes the linebackers could be Georgia's weak link in 2005.
"I really don't think this team has much of a weakness," he said. "If we're the weakness, I want to see the strength."
Verdun Wheeler has developed into the kind of guy that coaches like to count on as leaders. He isn't afraid to say anything, knowing full well he'll have to back it up on Saturdays this fall.
"I feel confident," Verdun Wheeler said. "I really feel like this is a role that I need to be in. I want to be on the field as much as possible."
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: "I think he's ready."
The biggest thing that Verdun Wheeler is ready to prove is that Georgia's punishing defense didn't leave with Odell Thurman and David Pollack and Thomas Davis. Verdun Wheeler thinks the concerns about adjustment to a new coordinator and fresh personnel is "100 percent overrated."
"I'm looking forward to showing people that Georgia can still be the best defense in the league," he said. "We have a lot of shoes to fill but I also feel like we're stepping in our own shoes. We've seen those guys who left and we watched and learned from their experience, and we're going to come together and walk our own way."
Coming off three 10-win seasons and top-six poll finishes didn't impress the experts enough to rank the 2005 Bulldogs any higher than 13th in the nation and third in the SEC East, does Verdun Wheeler think people are underestimating Georgia?
"I don't think, I know people are underestimating us, and I think that's good," he said. "We hope they keep underestimating us because all that does is drive us and motivate us more to become even better than we are. We'll see where we end up at the end of the season."