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One moment more: Verdun Wheeler plays final game in Sanford Stadium; other local players excel on college level

Danny Verdun Wheeler stood for just a second and soaked it all in.

The huge digital scoreboard kept flashing "DAWGS WIN!!" Camera flashes mimicked white fireworks inside Sanford Stadium. And the Bulldog faithful kept cheering and cheering.

But for Verdun Wheeler it was all about just one more.

One more minute in the home confines of Sanford Stadium. One more hug from a brown-haired cheerleader. One more high-five from a trainer. One more memory from a four-year college career.

Saturday night's 15-12 win over Georgia Tech marked the end of Verdun Wheeler's career at Sanford Stadium. Sure, there'll be one more bowl game, but no more silver britches between the hedges.

"It's kind of sad, but kind of exciting at the same time," he said. "I'm just proud that I had the opportunity to play at Georgia. I'm blessed to be given the opportunity, and I'm looking forward to new starts now."

In four years, the former Thomson standout earned a starting spot on one of the best defenses in the nation. More importantly, he also stepped into a leadership role, focusing on keeping his teammates buoyed, even as he worked to regain his starting spot.

And Danny didn't just shine on the playing field. He also got it done in the classroom, working toward a degree in housing and real estate. He'll get that degree next semester and be ready for life - whether or not the NFL comes calling.

"Actually, I'm going to stay in school and train at the same time, so I'm trying to get my degree," Verdun Wheeler said. "I'll just start training for the NFL."

But for a few minutes after the big win Saturday, it wasn't about the NFL or a career in real estate.

It was about celebration.

Verdun Wheeler helped hoist a cooler of Gatorade and dump it on his head coach. He stopped at the 50-yard line to embrace Hairy Dawg, Georgia's larger-than-life mascot. He paused to pose for pictures - a friend here, his fellow linebackers and a couple coaches there, and, finally, the entire senior class of Bulldogs.

In the end, he was one of the last off the field, slapping the padding on the goalpost and getting a big hug from a bald dude with a bulldog painted on his head.

And then Danny stopped again.

He raised his helmet as a salute to the fans still there cheering, and took a deep breath.

One more chapter closed.

A lifetime of pages left to finish.

"I really enjoyed Athens, and I just can't wait to start a new chapter in my book," he said.

Speaking of our local college players, Andre Culpepper also had a great year as a University of West Georgia Wolf. Originally a walk-on, Culpepper eventually earned a starting spot on the defense. Despite missing two games with a high ankle sprain this season, Andre capped his senior year with 28 tackles, three blocked field goals, 4.5 sacks and was named to the All Gulf South Conference second team.

Meanwhile, the Brothers Brinkley had another great weekend as South Carolina Gamecocks. First, Casper Brinkley was named a Captain for the game against Clemson. Then his brother tackled everything he could find: Jasper led the Gamecocks with 10 tackles, including 1.5 sacks that helped preserve South Carolina's big win.

For the record, Jasper leads the Gamecocks in tackles with 96 - nearly double his closest teammate. Casper is fifth with 39 tackles, and second on the team in sacks with five.

And here's the scary part: The Brinkleys have another year of eligibility to wreak havoc on the SEC.

McDuffie Mirror Staff Writer Kristopher Wells contributed to this column.

Web posted on Thursday, November 30, 2006

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