Next up for Dave was a move to stay in the National League South with Staines Town. It was here, that he started to realise his potential.
“I enjoyed some good football at Staines and played there during my last two years of Uni. Word of mouth was going around with clubs looking at me but to be honest it was still mainly non-league clubs.
“I ended up going on trial with Dagenham and also Exeter at the same time both in League Two. I wanted to finish my degree but then spent the summer driving between Exeter and Dagenham playing pre-season games and that sort of thing, bombing up and down in my Corsa!
“I eventually signed with Exeter and it was great to have that faith shown in me. I signed not expecting to play for six-months, I thought I was going to need to train hard and just try and get a look in, but I ended up starting the first ten games.”
Exeter have been known to produce some very talented players over the years, including the likes of Ollie Watkins, Matt Grimes and Ethan Ampadu. It was an appealing aspect to Dave but a step up he needed to be ready for.
“Exeter ended up being the perfect place for me to go. Physically I thought I was as good, if not better, than some of the players there but technically I was miles off!
“I had so much to improve on, like the way I thought about the game, my positional play, but Exeter was the perfect place, they did a lot of technique training, shape, and all sorts of things I’d never done before.
“It was tough work, because they knew I needed a lot of improvement, so they were doing a lot of double sessions with me.
“I’d never slept so much in my life! Even at Uni when I was hungover I don’t think I slept so much - my body was just so tired. I was picking up injuries I had never experienced before just from overdoing it a bit.
“The eye-opener for me, was going from playing in front of a few hundred people, to all of a sudden well over 3,000 people.
“My debut was a home game against Bristol Rovers which is a bit of a derby game; there was about 5,000 people there, red hot day, I felt gone after about 10-15 minutes! It was a great day, but I’d say it took a while for me to feel comfortable, mentally, and physically.”
It's fair to say that Wheeler started to become a cult hero at Exeter and notched up 21 goals in the 2016/17 season. City made the Play-Off Final that year and despite scoring, he was unable to prevent a defeat. Looking back, Dave reflects on Exeter with much fondness, but the next opportunity was too tough to turn down.
“I couldn’t stop scoring that year and it was the first point I was confident of starting most games. It was just one of those seasons where everything I touched seemed to go in. I think I had a run where I scored like eight games in a row.
“It was a good period because I felt relaxed and I didn’t need to think about playing well or scoring it just came naturally that year.
“I knew scoring that amount of goals that there’d be some interest. But we had the Play-Offs coming up and I didn’t want my mind to be on that [a move from the club]. Hearts and maybe Luton were the clubs I remember being interested initially.
“QPR, in the end, was a no brainer for me. It was close to home, big club, in the Championship and it meant a lot to get that chance.”