Wolf Pack wide receiver more than ready | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Brandon Wimberly knows he nearly became a quickly forgotten statistic last summer near downtown Reno.

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Brandon Wimberly knows he nearly became a quickly forgotten statistic last summer near downtown Reno.

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Wolf Pack wide receiver more than ready

Joe Santoro
Special to the Tribune

John Byrne/University of Nevada Media ServiceBrandon Wimberly slips through the defense in a 2010 game against University of California, Berkeley. Wimberly was sidelined in the 2011 season after he was shot in Reno. The wide receiver will be back on the playing field this season for the Wolf Pack.

Brandon Wimberly knows he nearly became a quickly forgotten statistic last summer near downtown Reno.

In the split second it takes to pull a trigger, the Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver nearly went from a rising star in college football to just another young male from the Los Angeles area involved in a shooting incident.

“Yeah, that was going through my mind,” said Wimberly, now 23. “So many of my friends have gotten shot. I know a lot of people who have gotten hit. I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. Not in Reno. It kind of blew my mind.”

It nearly ended his life, let alone his college football career.

“In L.A. people get shot everyday,” said Wimberly, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., and went to high school in nearby Gardena, Calif. “Like I said, I’ve known a lot of people who have gotten shot. It’s no big deal. It seems like it happens all the time. A friend I knew in high school just got shot a couple months ago and died. If this was L.A. we wouldn’t even be talking about this right now.”

But it didn’t happen anywhere near Los Angeles. It happened in Reno. And Wimberly sat down with the northern Nevada media earlier this week and talked about the past year of his life.

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“I know,” Wimberly said, shaking his head and smiling. “I couldn’t believe it happened in Reno.”

Wimberly, according to the University of Nevada media services department, is not allowed to speak of the events in the late night hours of July 17 and early morning hours of June 18, 2011, that led to the shooting because of an ongoing police investigation.

But, according to media and police reports over the past year, a fight broke out between some Wolf Pack football players and another group outside of the Freight House District, a popular night spot near Reno Aces Ballpark. The other group got into their car, Wimberly approached the car and, after another physical confrontation, a gun was fired out of the car and the bullet hit Wimberly in the abdomen, injuring his intestines and colon.

“When it happened I really didn’t feel anything,” Wimberly said. “After that I don’t really remember anything that happened until six days later when I woke up.”

The initial reports after the shooting were not hopeful. The Pack had seemingly lost the 2009 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year for the 2012 season and likely beyond. And, oh yeah, Wimberly was lucky to still be alive.

“Another centimeter and the doctor said he might not have made it to the hospital,” Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault said just after the incident. “It doesn’t look like he’ll ever play again.”

Wimberly never doubted he’d not only survive the shooting but also return to the football field.

“I never thought I’d never play again,” he said. “Never even crossed my mind one time. I just thought, ‘OK, I got shot. I’ll just get healthy and get back out there.'”

Wimberly returned to the Wolf Pack last March and April for spring football practices and looked like, well, the old Brandon Wimberly.

“It really wasn’t that hard at all, getting back,” Wimberly said. “Once I got my stamina back, I was fine. You know, I wasn’t going to let someone outdo me. I always knew I was going to come back.”

The most difficult part of the last 14 months, he said, was the nine months between the gunshot and the first day of spring football.

“To be honest, it was hard for me to be out there,” Wimberly said. “I’m not going to lie. I couldn’t go out there and watch what was taken away from me.”

But he didn’t go into hiding either.

“I was around,” he said. “I went to meetings. I was at all the home games. I talked to the players all the time.”

He wasn’t ready last season to be merely a source of inspiration. He knew he had plenty of football left.

“What happened took a whole year from me,” he said. “I definitely value life a little more than I did. I always knew that at some point football was going to come to an end. It ends for everyone. But I had no idea it was going to end that soon.”

Wimberly’s teammates are thrilled he’s going to be back at practice every day and helping them on game day. But, most of all, they are just happy to have him around as a prominent member of the team once again.

“We just wanted to see him healthy again,” senior offensive lineman Chris Barker said. “That’s the important thing. Knowing that he’s going to come back and play, that is just icing on the cake.”

What kind of receiver are the Wolf Pack getting with Wimberly this season?

Well, he’s about 10 pounds heavier (220) than he was two years ago. Other than that, he looks like the same guy Pack fans saw in 2008 and 2009.

“I think the year off helped get my legs fresh,” Wimberly said. “I feel a lot better than I did.”

All of the football-related questions were answered last spring. Wimberly took tough hits and bounced right back up and, of course, he dished out a few hits, too.

“I knew everything was going to be OK when I took Duke up top,” smiled Wimberly, referring to Pack safety Duke Williams. “As soon as I stepped on the field and took a hit I was all right. At first I was a little out of rhythm but who wouldn’t be after missing a whole season?”

Wimberly has caught 94 passes for 1,215 yards and six touchdowns in his career. And every single catch, every single yard and every single touchdown was thrown by former Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

What kind of receiver is the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder? Well, as a freshman in 2009 he was the best receiver on the team, grabbing a team-best 53 passes for 733 yards and six scores. But in 2010 he became a possession receiver, finishing second on the team with 41 catches for just 482 yards and no touchdowns.

It was in 2010 that Wimberly became one of just three players during the Pack’s dozen seasons (2000-11) in the WAC to catch at least 20 passes in a season without catching a single touchdown. The other two to get shut out of the end zone with 20 or more catches are Mike Crawford (42 catches in 2000) and Dan Bythwood (21 in 2001).

Wimberly’s last touchdown catch was in the Hawaii Bowl late in a 45-10 loss to SMU in 2009. That’s how long it’s been since he’s been in the end zone.

So there is some unfinished business.

“You know people are always asking me, ‘How are you going to be when you come back?'” Wimberly said. “I just tell them, ‘Wait and see.’ I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder. People have always told me I was too small to play, not fast enough, not strong enough. So I’ve always had things to motivate me. This is just another thing.'”

You can be sure, though that this won’t be just another season for Wimberly. It’s the season, after all, that he has spent the past 14 months dreaming about. Wimberly plans on motivating his teammates this season much more than he could simply standing on the sidelines in 2011.

“I knew I couldn’t ever give up on my team,” he said, “because they never gave up on me.”

-Sports editor Becky Regan contributed to this report.

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