By Rachel Bachman, The Oregonian
November 26, 2009, 5:00PM
View full sizeThomas Boyd/The OregonianRobbie, the older brother of former Oregon football star Kenny Wheaton, visits the grave of their younger brother, Derrek, almost every week. Derrek was killed 12 years ago this month at age 19.As a taxi dropped Kenny Wheaton at his childhood home in Phoenix, cars clogged the street. It was late 1997, and an early morning phone call brought the news that something had happened to Derrek, his younger brother. Wheaton caught the first flight from Dallas, where he was a rookie with the Cowboys.
Kenny Wheaton's interception during the 1994 Washington game was a turning point for University of Oregon football. But his lasting impact may be on a smaller stage.
Day 1: The middle son, Kenny Wheaton excels with his close-knit family.
Today: A fateful night and painful admission shape Wheaton's beliefs.
Day3: Back in Eugene, a football star focuses on making life better for others.
This series was compiled from a visit to Kenny Wheaton's hometown of Phoenix, Ariz., extensive interviews of family members and friends, and hundreds of pages of court and police records.The beloved former University of Oregon football player waded into a nightmare. Neighbors filled the lawn, weeping. Wheaton's mother squeezed tears from swollen-shut eyes. His father sat in the backyard, slumped near the concrete basketball court he had installed for his sons.
Wheaton found and hugged his older brother, Robbie. Kenny doesn't remember anyone telling him, but he knew. His younger brother, Derrek, a 19-year-old so cheerful that people called him “Sunshine,” was dead.
The details came in fits: Derrek had been speaking to his girlfriend on a pay phone outside a nearby 7-Eleven when she heard gunshots on the other end. She raced to Robbie's house and banged on the window, and he sped to the store. He arrived to see Derrek face-down on the pavement and bleeding, surrounded by spent bullets.
Steps away sat the Nissan Altima with Oregon plates that Kenny's parents had bought for him in Eugene, the gas nozzle still plugged into its side.
The horror ricocheted around town: Derrek Wheaton, a standout athlete who had won a defensive award hours earlier at his junior-college football banquet, a polite young man who had tended for months to his ill mother and had a scholarship offer from Oregon, was gunned down from the back. Police said the shooters thought he was someone else.
Kenny Wheaton is best known for his 1994 interception against Washington, which helped spark the golden age of Ducks football that continues today. But he has been shaped%