NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Vic Wharton III was just 6 years old when he learned the most valuable lesson of his athletic career.
The teachings from his father had nothing to do with throwing a football, hitting a baseball or how to shoot a basketball. It was all about competing.
The fatherly advice came after Wharton III lost a race then avoided running against the kid who beat him for the rest of the day. Vic Wharton II wasn't nearly as concerned about the loss as he was about his son ducking the competition.
“You're going to be running against this kid for the rest of your life and I think he understood it then,” the elder Wharton said metaphorically.
Now, Wharton III tends to outrun most all competition. He's a standout in track, basketball, baseball and football at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tenn. The 2014 prospect has scholarship offers from Ole Miss, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
More scholarships are on the horizon. Since the spring evaluation period began on April 15, coaches from Ohio State, Virginia, Mississippi State, Cincinnatti and Kentucky have been to the school. Wharton II said Ohio State and Virginia are showing strong interest. Alabama and Auburn have also expressed interest. Tigers assistant coach Trooper Taylor is scheduled to visit the school in May.
“It's very exciting,” Wharton III said. “Just growing up as a child, I always dreamed of playing college football and going to the NFL. It's good to have your dream come true with these offers and be one of the top prospects in your grade.”
Wharton II had the same dreams as his son, but never quite realized them. He was in a few NFL camps and played in arena leagues across the South from 1997 to 2003 but never secured a roster spot on an NFL team. Wharton II doesn't blame anyone but himself for not fulfilling his childhood dreams.
“My squandered attempts, my mind wasn't right,” he said. “But by the time I squandered those attempts and wound up in an arena ball camp, all the coaches and players were (saying) 'How come you're not on an NFL team?' (and I said) 'This product that you see now was not what it was. That's why I'm here.'”
Wharton II is doing his best to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to his son. It seems to be working, if it hasn't already.
“What sets Vic aside from he and I is he kind of understands that next level of competition,” Wharton II said. “I didn't understand it until late. I was 30 years old when I actually understood how it works and what it's all about.”
Wharton II said he saw that work ethic kick up another notch when his son received his first scholarship offer.
“I knew I had to work hard,” Wharton III said. “If I wanted to be the best I had to work harder than everyone else who I'm going against.”
Christ Presbyterian head coach Ingle Martin knows how to judge work ethic. The former Nashville high school standout played football at Florida and Furman before a three-year stint in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.
“He's a kid that's got lots of natural ability,” Martin said. “As a sophomore, I think he had as big of an impact as he could as far as affecting games for us. The thing that probably sets him apart is his desire to work. A lot of kids with natural ability don't have that desire. He gets after it on the practice field and I think he got better as the year progressed.”
Name a position on the football field and Wharton has probably played it. Last season, he lined up at quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back and, like his dad used to, excels at returning kicks and punts.
“He's just a weapon,” Martin said. “Put him where you need to get him the ball and put him on somebody you need shut down.”
Even though Wharton III is just a sophomore, his recruitment is starting to take shape with Ole Miss in prime position.
“Out of the schools that offered me, Ole Miss is my No. 1 ... then probably North Carolina then Vanderbilt,” said Wharton, who visited the nearby Commodores for their spring game on Saturday.
Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, Duke, Southern Methodist, Clemson, Cincinnatti, Virginia and Louisville are some of the schools that have long shown interest.
The Cardinals are one of the schools with a strong connection to the Wharton family. Wharton III was born in Kentucky and was recently wowed by a conversation with head coach Charlie Strong.
“He's awesome,” Wharton III said. “Louisville has always been my favorite school since I was little.”
Yet the Whartons have the strongest ties to Knoxville and the University of Tennessee. Before moving to Nashville last year, the Whartons lived in Knoxville where Wharton II once played for the now-defunct Tennessee Thundercats. Wharton III used to even drive his motorcycle onto the field for Thundercats pre-game introductions when his father played.
Wharton III, who is scheduled to visit Knoxville for the Orange and White Game on Saturday, also has several friends on the Vols' team, such as returner Devrin Young and defensive lineman Daniel Hood. His uncle, Brandon Wharton, was a standout basketball player for Tennessee. Although the Vols haven't offered yet, they should be in good shape if they do.
“He loves Tennessee more than I thought he did,” Wharton II said. “He grew up in the town.”
Prospects at Christ Presbyterian in all sports, along with some other prospects from nearby schools, have talked about attending the same college.
With the way things are going currently, it seems quite possible that Wharton III may have more options than some of his high school counterparts. The athleticism helps, but it doesn't tell the full story.
“He's never been satisfied with God given ability,” Wharton II said. “He's so competitive.”
Since he was 6 years old.