As Wheaton goes back to school, his book aims to guide first-timers

Interim men’s tennis coach David Wheaton had his first book hit the shelves last week.

Aaron Blake

David Wheaton doesn’t believe in coincidences. But even he admits the sequence of events during the last six weeks has been “pretty incredible.”

Less than one month after returning to college as Minnesota’s interim men’s tennis coach, the 35-year-old former tennis professional’s first book hit stores April 1. The topic – the spiritual transition to campus life.

Wheaton, a Minnesota native, parlays a series of strong convictions into work as a Christian radio show host, inspirational speaker and, now, author. He describes his book, titled “University of Destruction: Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus,” as a preparatory guide for Christian students coming out of high school and adjusting to what he calls the three pillars of peril: sex, humanism, and drugs and alcohol.

For someone who spent just one year at college (he led Stanford to an NCAA title in 1988) and 13 years in the world of excess that is professional sports, the choice of subjects might seem odd for an initial effort.

But, in life and coaching, tennis has been the easy part for Wheaton, and he said his return to campus in early March only reinforced his ideas about the importance of his book.

“Going down to a college on a regular basis and experiencing it a little bit definitely got me into that environment again,” he said. “It made me realize there is a great need for this book. From that standpoint, it was really good timing.”

Wheaton is fond of citing a study performed by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which states as many as half of Christian high school students who go on to college will lose their faith on campus.

Wheaton was one of those students during his time in Palo Alto, Calif., when a strong Christian upbringing that included reading the Bible after dinner turned into some of the destructive behavior his book warns about, he said.

But he also stressed he doesn’t use his newest capacity to impose his faith on his players. Instead, he said, he focuses on turning them into more mature players and people.

“We’re all working on our tennis games, and improving, and so forth,” he said. “But my job as a coach is to help these guys overachieve and make the transition to being mature men on a very regular basis.”

Achieving that transition in such a short time is asking a lot. Without a college degree, Wheaton wouldn’t qualify to become the Gophers’ full-time coach, so he’ll almost surely be done once the season is over in a few weeks.

When that time comes, he’ll have more time to perform his other jobs: host of “The David Wheaton Show” on KKMS 980 AM, United States Tennis Association board of directors member, contributing columnist for the Star Tribune, speaker and blooming author.

But Wheaton said it has been nice to return to campus and do a favor for a program that gave him so much when he was growing up. He learned from long-time Gophers coach Jerry Noyce and used to practice with Noyce’s players.

And many of the lessons he’s learned in the meantime translate well into both the book and the Baseline Tennis Center.

Almost to the point where you’re not sure which one he’s talking about.

“These guys are all at a very transitional time in their lives. They’re going from being boys when they were 17 or 18 to now transitioning to being men,” Wheaton said of his players. “But we still call them young men. So they’re in that transitional stage in their lives where my job is to help them become men.”