Straining forward near the end of the 100 meters at the Oregon Twighlight meet, Markus Wheaton snuck a quick glance at the runner to his left.
Assured that he was ahead, Wheaton leaned in at the finish.
Wheaton, a receiver on the Oregon State football team, didn’t win the race. He finished second in 10.58 seconds, but ahead of the runner in the next lane.
Yes, that sprinter was UO running back DeAnthony Thomas, proclaimed by fans and media types as the fastest player in college football.
“Just had a good race,” Wheaton said. “Went head to head and I won.”
Does that mean Wheaton holds claim to the title?
Well, not necessarily. He could be No. 2 on his own team.
Fellow receiver Brandin Cooks has won his share of sprints for the Beavers.
Wheaton had the top two OSU times in the 100 but Cooks had the two best 60 times.
“I feel like Markus has that top-end speed and I feel like I’ve got that first 60,” Cooks said. “We always talk about it and joke around with it. One day we’ll have to race again because so far every time we race each other in the same heat, we tie with the same time.”
Track speed does not necessarily translate to the football field.
Football involves change of direction and switching gears to follow blockers.
Players have to understand how to go east and west along with north and south.
Cooks, Wheaton and Thomas all have those abilities at exceptional levels.
“He did get him. That was a good thing for Markus to beat DeAnthony,” Cooks said.
“But I feel like you take someone off the track and put them on the field, it’s a different speed and Markus and DeAnthony on the field are just lightning-fast.”
Wheaton and Cooks have become one of the top receiver tandems in the country.
Wheaton leads the Beavers with 48 catches for 654 yards and six touchdowns with a long gain of 51 yards.
Cooks has 35 receptions for 667 yards and two scores with a long of 75.
Speed has a lot to do with their success, and OSU’s 6-0 start.
They can make the short catch for a first down or stretch the defense deep.
Throw the ball to either receiver and a big play is bound to happen sooner or later.
“It’s really awesome to have two guys like that because with them, however you get them the ball, you know something good is pretty likely to happen,” quarterback Sean Mannion said. “So it really makes my job easier. We can just do kind of simple things and with them it can turn into a really explosive play.”
It’s not unusual for a team to have one player who has speed to spread the field.
The Beavers have the duo and that makes it hard on the defense.
“You can’t necessarily pay too close attention to one of them,” backup QB Cody Vaz said. “They’re two great players.”
Opposing defensive coaches are faced with the dilemma of whether to play press or stay off the receivers, OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.
Do they pull over the safety to help or let the corners go one-on-one?
“So they do provide a little bit of a problem defensively in how they want to play them,” Langsdorf said.
“Having two guys is a big deal because it spreads the defense. Usually, if you’ve got one guy, you can give them help, you can double one speed receiver and take him out of the game. But with two guys you can’t double both very easily without really giving up some other stuff. So it’s a great advantage having that kind of speed on the perimeter and being able to put them on different sides and really being able to attack them all the way across the field.”
So who’s faster?
“I guess that depending on who you ask,” Wheaton said.