In Brenham, Texas, Keric Wheatfall and his family would go to their grandmother’s house out in the countryside with a wide-open field that’s 300 yards of grass and rocks.
Ignoring the gravel and sticker bugs, everyone played football without pads and without worries. Keric’s older brother, Kerry Wheatfall Jr., said it best: if you’re going to play football in the country, “you gon’ play football” — aggressive and rough.
But that didn’t matter because it was fun being around family and friends. Kerry Jr. said that kind of experience doesn’t leave a person. Playing in the country can be like playing at a stadium because the football team is like another family.
That mindset influenced Keric when he decided to take football seriously. When asked about his motivation to become a wide receiver, the answer was immediate.
“Honestly, my family, that’s really the main thing because I’ve been through some ups and downs, a lot of downs, that I just want to, you know, walk away from things,” Keric said. “But talking to my family, calling my family and them just giving me advice… giving me motivation to just go out there and perform for them and my teammates.”
Wheatfall’s work ethic is like no others, and that is the number one quality people mention when describing him. He’s a hard worker. But other people doubted him based on his rural background.
Throughout middle school and high school, people teased him because he was from the country, and they assumed he couldn’t play football in bigger cities. Wheatfall was stuck on B-teams throughout school, and at that point of his life, he described it as a “downhill spiral.”
He struggled in classes and involved himself in the wrong crowd. People counted Wheatfall out, but Michael Allen – his high school coach – didn’t.
Allen said it wasn’t Wheatfall’s work ethic that needed improvement. Instead, he required better focus on his goals in life.
“He knew what he wanted to be,” Allen said. “Everything we do was going to be focused and driven toward that goal.”
That goal centered around football. Once Allen told Wheatfall he can make it to the NFL, that motivated him to push himself to another level. They started waking up at 5 a.m. to work out together and practice running routes to improve Wheatfall’s skills.
“[Allen] honestly got me to the point to where I am today, so I’m thankful to ever have him come in my life,” Wheatfall said.
By sophomore year, Wheatfall moved up to varsity at Cypress Ranch Highschool. That same year, in a game against Cypress Springs High School, he landed on his back trying to catch a ball and broke his collarbone.
After suffering a devastating injury, he went into the locker room upset. But instead of going back into that downhill spiral, he looked at his close friend and high school teammate Blake Rachal. They both just started laughing.
“That shows me that everything is gonna be okay. [Keric’s] in good spirits,” Rachal said. “That’s just his personality. You know, he always tried to make somebody laugh. He always laughing.”
Rachal was part of that support system for Wheatfall. If he was feeling down and needed encouragement or advice, he went to Rachal.
They met at a basketball gym and knew each other because their older brothers were also friends. Since then, they’ve been friends for 10 years.
Rachal said Wheatfall was the hardest working person he’s met since high school.
After the collarbone injury, Allen kept pushing Wheatfall to focus on his goals. He said it doesn’t matter what obstacles are in front of Wheatfall because the opportunities for him were still there and they just needed to attack it.
“Keric has given me a lot of life that he doesn’t even probably realize,” Allen said. “I saw him bounce back and fight… The only thing you can do is do the same thing.”
After high school, Wheatfall went to Blinn College in Brenham because he did not want to redshirt for a bigger school. He wanted to play and show the work he’s been doing.
Starting in junior college was tough for Wheatfall. He credited his family for helping him get through that JUCO grind.
“I wouldn’t have gotten this far without them, especially, going through that junior college route,” Wheatfall said. “You really alone going into that junior college route because everybody trying to eat. Everybody selfish, trying to get out.”
Wheatfall’s family supported him through phone calls every other day. His parents helped pay for his meals which went directly to patty melts, buffalo ranch, chicken-strip sandwiches and honey butter chicken biscuits from Whataburger.
His mother, Carol Wheatfall, explained what she told Keric when school was hard for him.
“I don’t believe in quitting,” Carol said. “When you start something, you need to finish it… I graduated from Blinn. It’s not like a piece of cake junior college.”
The Wheatfall family is built with the mindset to persevere. Carol graduated from Texas A&M, Keric’s father, Kerry Sr., also gained a football scholarship as a wide receiver and Kerry Jr. also played football at college as a cornerback and safety.
There were always friendly debates about who has the better career, and despite everyone defending their own accolades, the mutual respect and love never goes away.
“We always told him to keep God first and stay humble,” Carol said. “If [football’s] something you want to do, stay humble about it, pray about it and continue to work hard.”
During his two seasons at Blinn College, Wheatfall recorded six touchdowns and 798 yards on 47 receptions. In his sophomore seasons alone, he recorded five of those touchdowns and four 100-yard games. According to 247Sports he was ranked No. 17 for JUCO wide receivers.
Although junior college was a tougher route, it paid off when he gained attention from multiple recruiters, including Fresno State receiver coach Kirby Moore.
Moore teased Wheatfall about their first meeting together because he overslept, so Moore waited three hours in the Blinn offices. Despite the rocky start, the interview went well, and Wheatfall started his journey as a Bulldog football player.
“It’s been awesome to have him here,” Moore said. “I think he’s really focused in terms of just some of the different hurdles that he’s gone through to get here.”
One big hurdle during his first season at Fresno State was an empty stadium due to the pandemic. Wheatfall said it was already tough being far away from home, so the loss of fans added more distance from his loved ones because they couldn’t go to the games.
Kerry Sr. went through multiple health problems as well, so he has only seen videos of Keric’s games this year. He is getting better and recovering. After not being able to speak, he regained his voice and is able to talk again.
Carol talked about the time she showed Kerry Sr. the touchdown catch this season against Cal Poly. He watched the video of his son about 15 times and told Carol, “Yeah, that was good. Tell him that was good. Tell him I’m proud of him.”
During hard times like those, Keric still worked hard for Fresno State football because he stays focused on his goals.
He experienced a whole new state by himself, and at times, it was strange. Kerry Jr. remembered a phone call he received after Keric was in the pool during a California earthquake.
“All he felt was like big waves in the pool splashing around,” Kerry Jr. said. “He couldn’t do nothing but freak out, and when he told me, I was laughing.”
Despite the earthquakes, Keric had grown accustomed to Fresno and made it his own. Carol said when they first visited the school, he knew Fresno State was the one. Through setbacks in football and his own life, he embraces the Pride of the Valley.
“He’s not going to give up on Fresno. He loves Fresno, actually — that’s his place.” Kerry Jr. said.
Now, in his third season, Wheatfall is a starting wide receiver for No. 18 Fresno State and has already recorded one touchdown and 296 yards on 16 receptions this season.
His family hopes to see him play in-person this season now that stadiums are open. But they also love seeing Wheatfall – or Man-mans as his nickname – on TV. They text in a group chat specifically made for watching Wheatfall play.
“Honestly, I just want to make them happy, whatever that is. Whatever my role is, I just want to make my family happy,” Wheatfall said. “I’m trying to put them in a better position. I got goals.”
That goal is to take his career to the next level, and everybody that knows him says that he has the work ethic to achieve it. For Wheatfall, he doesn’t play for himself. He wants to set an example for his brothers.
“When my little brothers (they) see me succeed and they see me pushing through all this adversity – because they play football as well – I feel like they’ll just drive themselves to become a better person than me, you know, just watching me grow,” Wheatfall said.