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SOU's Wheeler a multiple-sport phenom

Travis Wheeler appears destined to leave a significant — mark on Raider athletics.

The redshirt freshman splits time between the Southern — Oregon University track and field team and the football program. In the — spring, Wheeler is the top SOU thrower in both the shot put and discus. — During the fall, he is an integral part of the Raider offensive line. —

As long as he can remain academically eligible, the three — to four hours a day Wheeler spends practicing the two intercollegiate — sports he has mastered will be the foundation for future trips to track — and field nationals, All-American status and, maybe, a school record in — the discus.

"Very focused, very determined is how I would describe — Wheeler," Raider throwing coach Bob Metcalf said. "He has high expectations — of himself. That's the type of athlete you want to work with at any level."

Wheeler, a Grants Pass native, hit 162-feet, 8 1/2 inches — on Friday afternoon during the Last Chance Meet at Raider Stadium. The — mark, almost a 20-foot improvement over Wheeler's season best of 143-7, — easily flew past the NAIA provisional qualifying mark.

According to performance lists posted on the NAIA Web — site March 11, Wheeler now sits among the top-10 discus throwers in the — nation.

"[Qualifying for nationals] is one of my goals," Wheeler — said before Friday's performance.

"I've hit the mark. I know I can hit it."

Wheeler, 20, would have qualified earlier in the season, — when he lobbed the discus 153-8 1/2 a couple weeks back. However, he was — academically ineligible at time the because the registrar's office at — SOU hadn't had the time to correct an incomplete from winter term. Since — he competed unattached, what would have been a provisional-qualifying — mark wasn't recognized by the NAIA.

"I kind of figured that's what would happen," Wheeler — said. "The one time I qualify, it doesn't count."

But Wheeler got his grades up and, on Friday, got his — mark far beyond what he needed to make the trip to Louisville, Ky., at — the end of the month.

Dual identities

Wheeler has been balancing football with track and field — since middle school. At North Valley High, he won a Class 3A state discus — title and helped his football team to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs — before the squad suffered its only defeat of the season. Still, the past — two years at SOU have demanded far more of him than ever before. On a — day-to-day basis, Wheeler dedicates three to four hours to practices, — year-round.

"It's very tough, from personal experience," Metcalf said. — "It's very hard to do."

Wheeler's other coach agreed.

"It's difficult, but with the way the training schedule — works, it seems like it's worked out," Raider head football coach Jeff — Olson said. "He's had a good spring with us."

As good as Wheeler has gotten at jumping between two sports, — the double strain on this time and energy has been evident this spring. —

"The last few weeks, with football and track going on — at the same time, my performances at meets haven't been too good," Wheeler — said. "But spring ball had ended that week [before conference] and I'd — had a couple days off."

At the Cascade Conference Championships last weekend in — Klamath Falls, Wheeler showed off with two personal bests - one in the — discus and one in the hammer - to win each event and ensure a Raider team — win.

"I think he surprised a lot of people by winning the shot — put," Metcalf said. "I think it was a no-brainer that he would win the — discus."

Wheeler entered the shot put with the fourth-best mark — in the field, then put up a 45-0 effort that scored key points for Southern. —

"I was trying to stay focused and pull one out for the — team," Wheeler said.

Although playing spring ball and competing in track and — field probably affected his throwing performances throughout the season, — he plans to continue as a two-sport collegiate athlete.

"[He can do] anything he wants if he's as determined in — three years as his is today," Metcalf said. "I believe he has the chance — to go back-to-back national champion. He can do it and stick with football. — Not a lot of people can, but he can."

A son to be proud of

Wheeler has come into his own as an athlete and a leader — at Southern in the past several months.

"One of the things I've noticed about Travis this year — is I see him kind of taking a leadership role," Raider head track and — field coach Mike Jones said. "He takes care of business. He's conscientious. — Obviously, he has the ability to rise to the occasion."

His growth hasn't simply been limited to the track program. —

"This year has been dramatically different than last," — Olson said. "He's much improved this year. He's much more focused."

Wheeler credits his dedication to clear-cut goals, especially — in track and field. His aims are lofty, but given his ability to rise — to the occasion, they could be quite reasonable.

"I'd like to break the discus school record, which is — 175 feet," Wheeler said. "I'd like to qualify for nationals in at least — the discus and the shot next year, and maybe the hammer."

Metcalf believes Wheeler is taking all the right steps — to be a champion. From being punctual at practice to putting in extra — time to showing up to set up the field before a meet day, Wheeler appears — committed to making a lasting impression on the Raider track program.

"A lot of it, honestly, is personal drive," Metcalf said. — "He's got a great work ethic. He pushes himself a lot harder than most — people do."