SANTA CLARA Well, this sure beats selling sneakers.
Linebacker Michael Wilhoites long journey to the NFL has culminated in a spot on the 49ers active roster for Sundays game in St. Louis. The 25-year-old out of Division II Washburn University, who was signed to the practice squad late last season, confirmed that he expects to serve on special teams when the 49ers battle the Rams.
Wilhoite got word on Monday that it was a possibility he would suit up, but it wasnt made official until just before Fridays damp practice in Santa Clara.
It was a great feeling. Its an honor to get on the field with these guys and have fun and help the team any way I can, Wilhoite said.
Prior to joining the Niners practice squad last December, Wilhoite had just completed his first year playing for the UFLs Omaha Nighthawks. After the season ended in November, he returned to his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, where his title changed from linebacker to shoe salesman at the retail store Finish Line, among other things.
Wilhoite, who graduated with a degree in mass media from Washburn, remembers that time in his life as a low point in his professional career. Fortunately, it didnt last very long.
Thats tough. Thats the toughest part. When youre home doing nothing, every day goes by so slow and youre thinking, whats next? What do I do? Do I pick up another career?
The good thing was, I had a degree in mass media, so I could find a job. So, I was just at home working at Finish Line, working as a personal trainer, working at the radio station (WIBW 580 in Topeka). I got the call to come out here, and it was a blessing then and still a blessing now. Im just going with the flow, and enjoying it and loving it, and taking it one day at a time.
Wilhoite was able to take advantage of several vacancies in the roster since the 49ers' win in New Orleans last weekend. Wide receiver Kyle Williams and running back Kendall Hunter suffered season-ending injuries, while versatile special teamer Demarcus Dobbs was arrested following a single-car accident early Friday morning and wont be making the trip to St. Louis, as originally reported by CSNBayArea.coms Matt Maiocco.
Wilhoite doesnt think its a coincidence that his first game will be in St. Louis. His friend Joe Hastings, a former 49ers wide receiver whom he played with at Washburn, also made his debut against the Rams late last season at the Edward Jones Dome.
I was at home and brushing my teeth and something just hit me like, Joes first game was at St. Louis. What if I got pulled up and my first game was in St. Louis? That would be pretty awesome, Wilhoite said.
It just shows to me that this stuff doesnt just happen. Its not by coincidence, its by fate. Its pretty special and pretty powerful, really, if you think about it.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who gave credit to the teams scouting department for unearthing Wilhoite, had nothing but good things to say about the 6-0, 240-pound linebacker who played safety in college and even lined up as a fullback for some snaps in the preseason.
Michael has shown to be a real professional. Hes showed its really important to him. Hes chomping at the bit to get on the field, and well see if thats a possibility in this game, Harbaugh said, minutes before Wilhoite confirmed hed be playing.
Special teamer Tavares Gooden was also very complimentary of Wilhoite, saying: Hes a hard worker. Strong guy. Hes a 49er, thats why hes activated. Everybody who gets an opportunity, Im excited for. I cant wait to see him play. Hes a real humble guy, and hes ready.
What can he bring to the field on Sunday?
Were going to find out, Gooden said.