OSU football: Jesse Skoubo

Oregon State returns a deep threat this season in senior wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who caught 73 passes for 986 yards and one touchdown last year. (Jesse Skoubo | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Amanda Cowan

After one spring practice back in April, Markus Wheaton was questioned about leadership.

What happened to the leadership for the Oregon State football team?

The Beavers didn’t appear to have any during their two-year losing streak. The Rodgers brothers tried to lead by example, but that was it.

Wheaton paused ... and couldn’t really come up with a name who would be the go-to leader for the 2012 season.

So the senior receiver had to do something to fill the void. Wheaton took on that challenge, along with other seniors Jordan Poyer and Andrew Seumalo.

“I felt like without Quizz or James to carry our team, I’ll have to take that on,” Wheaton said. “I feel like it’s my senior year and I have to be a leader. I have to put a lot of pressure on my back.”

Wheaton had been a longtime contributor since his freshman season. He used his speed as a deep threat and an occasional ball carrier and kickoff returner.

There were some solid numbers the first two years in the shadow of James Rodgers. He caught eight passes for 89 yards as a freshman and gained 168 all-purpose yards.

When Rodgers was lost for the season early in 2010, Wheaton finished with 55 catches, 675 yards and four touchdowns.

Wheaton’s junior season was supposed to be a breakout year. He prepared during the summer with quarterback Ryan Katz, but things changed the first game. The Beavers entered into a quarterback controversy and Sean Mannion came out on top.

“Last year I was working with Katz, and then Sean was thrown in the first game and we fell off,” Wheaton said. “But now the chemistry is there with Sean. It really grew over the season. We’ve been doing a lot over the summer to keep it up.”

Wheaton was the top receiver last year and caught 73 passes for 986 yards and one TD. His lone touchdown came in the eighth game of the season.

Being the only deep threat and go-to guy was difficult. The opposition knew it and double-teamed him. It was a physical battle just to get off the line, let along going into the air to grab a ball.

“The biggest thing was the physical part of it, to add muscle on that frame to take the pounding,” receivers coach Brent Brennan said. “Because he’s so athletic, he makes a lot of plays up in the air. And we are demanding of him blocking and being physical.”

Wheaton bulked up in the offseason from 178 pounds a year ago to 182, and didn’t even go home in the summer for a time like usual.

He also re-created that connection he had with Katz with Mannion, starting in the spring and with player-organized workouts in the summer.

“You can see it when you look at him,” Brennan said of Wheaton’s dedication. “His body has changed. He added some good muscle to him. It started in the spring where he was super competitive. He wanted to win every play.”

Combine the desire to reach the next level individually and as a team with the leadership void, and Wheaton’s ready to reach his potential.

And so is everyone else.

“Our expectations are high, but there’s nobody who worked harder in the offseason than Markus Wheaton,” coach Mike Riley said. “Physically, he continued to grow and change himself. He looks great, is running well and caught a million balls from Sean in the summer. He’s an example of the work ethic of this team. He’s truly leading this team. He’s primed for a great year.”

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