Ben Wileman has already been hearing the catcalls. He knows it comes with the territory.
Yet, he’s willing to take the abuse to live out a lifelong dream.
The Edgerton High senior is going to play Big Ten football.
Wileman will attend the University of Minnesota as a preferred walk-on for P.J. Fleck’s up-and-coming program. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker will likely redshirt his first season. But he would have four years of eligibility remaining and a few chances to take back Paul Bunyan’s Axe from the University of Wisconsin—which beat the Gophers last season to regain the coveted trophy between the two border state schools.
“I’ve got teased quite a bit already about going to Minnesota, but I know everybody is just joking,” Wileman said. “It’s usually, ‘I hope you play well, but I hope Wisconsin wins.’ I get it.
“But I’m really pumped about the whole thing. It’s a great fit for me and exactly where I want to be.”
Wileman had a standout career on the gridiron as well as excelling on the baseball diamond. He was a two-time all-Rock Valley Conference first-team selection in football and first-team all-conference in baseball last season despite missing several games with a shoulder injury.
Mike Gregory was Wileman’s coach in football and baseball. He believes the-two sport standout will thrive at the collegiate level.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Ben’s best years are ahead of him,” Gregory said. “He’s young for his class and will probably be the youngest guy on the team.
“He’s already put on 20 to 25 pounds of good weight, and when he gets down to one sport and gets into their system, they’ll find out how good of a football player they’ve got. He’s going to be a scholarship player at some point.”
Wileman credits a devotion to the weight room for opening doors he thought would remain shut. He said as his body changed, so did his mindset.
He exploded onto the scene his junior year, leading the team in tackles and helping the Crimson Tide reach the state quarterfinals in Division 4.
“It all started my junior year when we won our Homecoming game,” Wileman said. “The seniors on the team had never won a Homecoming game, and we knew that it had been a while since any team had. That was huge.”
Edgerton shared the Rock Valley title this past season in football, and despite being double- and triple-teamed, Wileman was still a beast on both sides of the ball.
Wileman hit .360 last season on the diamond for the Tide and played a stellar third base before a shoulder injury forced him to miss several games and finish the season as the DH.
With the shoulder fully healed and a strong supporting cast coming back, Wileman was excited for the baseball season.
“It’s so disappointing knowing we aren’t going to be able to play,” Wileman said of the coronavirus pandemic that canceled the spring high school sports season. “We had pretty much everybody back, including all of our pitching.
“I’m going to really miss baseball. It’s a sport I really enjoyed playing.”
Wileman plans to get his degree in graphic design and has already begun to hone his skills in that field by designing prints for T-shirts for school, editing pictures and putting together fliers of the upcoming opponent during the football season. One of his designs appears on Page 2B of today’s Gazette.
It will likely be a couple years before Ben Wileman suits up for the Gophers, but when he does, he’s got his designs on getting the Paul Bunyan Axe back.