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Family, friends mourn NU's Wheeler

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2001

POMONA, Calif. (AP) -- Rashidi Wheeler was remembered Monday as a gifted, humble and perpetually smiling athlete who was always there for people who needed help.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking at the memorial for the 22-year-old Northwestern University safety who died during practice Aug. 3, suggested that Wheeler hasn't stopped helping other young athletes.

''He's still a safety. He's going to save thousands of young athletes,'' said Jackson, who is helping Wheeler's family conduct an investigation of his death.

''People are asking questions about pre-practice practices because of Rashidi, they're asking about unauthorized practices because of Rashidi, they're asking about Ultimate Orange because of Rashidi,'' Jackson said.

Although a medical examiner ruled in a preliminary report the cause of death was bronchial asthma, it is still under investigation.

According to news reports, Wheeler may have taken a supplement called Ultimate Orange which contains ephedrine. Ephedrine is banned by the NCAA.

Northwestern is investigating whether Wheeler and other football players took the energy-enhancing supplement before he collapsed on an Evanston, Ill., field.

A toxicology report, which will test for ephedrine, will not be completed for several weeks.

Family members want to make sure the university focuses on apparent breakdowns in medical care as Wheeler collapsed on the field. Jackson said the Ultimate Orange story may be an attempt to ''discredit'' Wheeler but said more facts need to come out and added ''this is no time to be throwing mud at the university.''

In a 3 1/2-hour service at First Baptist Church, about 350 family members, friends and teammates remembered Wheeler through songs, flowers, photographs, funny stories and poetry he wrote.

''Even when things were hard he was always the one with the smile on his face,'' Northwestern teammate Billy Silva said.

Another teammate said that although he was a bit of a trickster -- Wheeler had earned the nickname ''Bogusman'' -- his upbeat attitude won them over.

Kevin Bentley said Wallace once kicked him out of his dorm room and made him go to an ATM at 10 p.m. to pay him back $2. But, Bentley, who will wear Wheeler's No. 30 in his honor, said, ''he had that big Kool-Aid smile so you can't get mad at him.''

Friends and teachers from Wheeler's younger days remembered an enthusiastic boy who could dunk a basketball as a seventh grader and excelled on the gridiron despite not beginning to play football until he was a sophomore at Damien High School in La Verne, Calif.

''Rashidi had everything. He was smart, gifted and he had game,'' said friend Brian Allen.

Wheeler's Northwestern coaches said the senior was disappointed by being demoted off the special teams squad early in his college career but he worked hard and earned a starting position in all 12 games last season.

''Rashidi was my hero,'' head coach Randy Walker said. ''He learned early and successfully in life that to be successful, he had to get a little better every day.''



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