DECATUR — When Jeffery Wells played his first MacArthur varsity football game as a sophomore two years ago he was still relatively new to the game.
He played JFL in sixth grade while living in Indianapolis, but that wasn't exactly the perfect use of his talents. In some levels of youth football, there are weight limits. Bigger players get relegated to playing offensive or defensive line. Wells was too big to play running back or in the defensive secondary. He missed his seventh grade year with an injury and finally got things rolling in eighth grade — at his more natural positions. He played football as a freshman in high school and relocated to Decatur in the second semester of his freshman year.
By sophomore year, Wells had turned into a muscular safety and running back with no regard for anyone or anything in front of him. He's structured like a brick house and hits like a freight train operating at max speed and traveling down hill.
The entirety of the Central State 8 Conference took notice of
Wells' hard-hitting ways and so have college recruiters. Like teammate AJ Lawson, Wells is rolling in scholarship offers going into his senior year. The first was an offer from Kent State. Then came Illinois State and Southern Illinois. Throw Division II Lindenwood St. Charles in the mix, as well.
"Having an early offer junior year, not many guys get to have that opportunity," Wells said. "I know a big thing was my grades. My grades have always opened a lot of doors for me and also being a good person. It all tied in. Always doing the right thing was an emotional thing because it’s not always easy doing the right thing. It paid off."
Wells, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, was an all-state selection and a first team all-Macon County selection as a junior. Colleges see him as a safety or a hybrid linebacker.
“Whenever you see a kid hit the way that he hits, you don’t see a lot of high school kids who puts a helmet on somebody like that," Spates said. "He flat out runs through people."
Wells is smart. He's seen recruiting happen for people around him. He knows it can come out of nowhere and reach high speed like a luxurious sports car. The process is far from over, but not any less special. He had an inkling that once the first offer came in, others would follow.
“I had an idea that would happen, but everyone has ideas and never knows what’s going to happen," Wells said. "When it did happen it was really a surprise. It was really eye-opening. I did a lot of hard work last summer, but I know I could have done more. If you do more, crazy stuff will happen."
Wells is more than the heavy-hitting, fire-breathing safety who has been on back-to-back MacArthur playoff teams. He's an ace in the classroom and in the community. Good grades? Got it. Volunteering in the community? The entire MacArthur football team is there. Off the field is just as important as on the field for Spates. He's as interested in what his players are doing when no one is watching as what they're doing with the lights bearing down on them in the chilly fourth quarter late in the season.
He isn't alone. Before Wells and Lawson took a visit to Northern Illinois University, Spates reminded them that what they do in the absence of company is important to college coaches — as if he needed to remind them. That, combined with Wells' on-the-field game, is an attractive quality for coaches.
“How physical he is and he’s an honor roll student," Spates said of Wells. "He plays football the way it’s supposed to be played. When you have a guy who is definitely physical and that smart of a football player, anything can happen.
“They know he’s going to get there, they know he’s going to graduate and they know he’s going to do things the right way. It’s most definitely his smarts and his physical ability."
Wells is absorbing all of the interest and the red carpets rolled out for him on visits to schools. There's no timetable set in stone for his decision. He's got more football to play for the Generals.
"You never know what’s going to happen," Wells said. "Patience is really the big thing because you never know what’s going to happen. Be patient. If you put the work in then big things will happen."
No excuses: 47 vintage photos of Decatur playing football
1994: Members of the 1944 Decatur High football team gather around coach Francis "Smock" White. Team members present at a recent reunion were, from left: Bill Rotz, Lynn Edwards, Bob Metzger, Paul Doyle, Jim Spears, Don Luallen, Bill Dickinson and Alzo Stevens.
1991: QB King will have these receivers to choose from: Joe Reid, Erick Blackwell, Cornealous West, Andy Holtzcher, Antwane McClelland and Marc Eller.
Returning a kick
1984: Lincoln's Scott Brunner returns a kick against Stephen Decatur.
1990: Quarterback Jeff Doolin and running back Leroy Smith are expected to provide the offensive punch for Stephen Decatur this season.
1990: Experienced Stephen Decatur linemen are, left to right, front, Tadd Faith, Josh Soules and Chad Faith; rear, Ron Cole, Tony Lee and Paul Davis.
Gilbert and Tomlinson
1987: Shannon Gilbert, left, takes over at flanker, while Eric Tomlinson plays the defensive backfield.
Stephen Decatur Quarterbacks
1962: Enny Aldridge, left, Dave Meek, center, Bill Boney, right.
1931 D.H.S. football team
Reds getting ready
1970: This foursome of Stephen Decatur High football players obliged the photographer Thursday at Hess Park where the Reds are holding practice sessions in preparation for their opening game. Left to right are Ty McMillin, Mike Tate, Mark Lockmiller and Dennis Hannapel. Opening drills started Wednesday for all five Decatur prep squads.
1965 All-City Prep Team
1965: From left: Stephen Decatur's Mike Odeneal, Terry Johnson, Larry Beasley, Larry Cook, Larry Downs, Ben Cooper, Jeff Gates, Jerry Whitson.
Stephen Decatur's backfield lettermen
1961: From left, Dave Withrow, Edgar Reed, Gary Stewart, Dave Hayes and T. J. Jackson. Stewart and Jackson are holdover regulars.
Tony Cruz and Jim Buck
1983: Stephen Decatur players Tony Cruz and Jim Buck.
1987: Football is meant for autumn, for crisp fall afternoons when cooling breezes make the exertion and heavy, hot equipment easier to bear. Unfortunately, practice begins in August. At Stephen Decatur, three players make good use of a drinking fountain. From left, Ron Habeck, Curtis Taylor and Craig Dedman beat the heat.
The quartet of quarterback
1992: The quartet of quarterback Troy Moffett (10) and running backs Brian Eller (35), Greg Watchinski (23) and Brian Miller (32) has been vital in getting Stephen Decatur off to its 2-1 start. Each of the running backs has taken turns in leading the team in rushing. Last week they helped Stephen Decatur to 333 yards on the ground. This week they will try to keep a two-game winning streak intact when Stephen Decatur plays host to Normal.
1971: Lettermen in the Stephen Decatur High School football backfield are, from left, Mike Tate, Jerry Thomas, quarterback Dave Perry and Rick Singer.
1963: Rear: Bobby Warnsley, Denny Alldridge, Jim Wilson, Wes Mason. Front: Ernie Odeneal, Brian Wisher, Joe Dillman, Butch Smith, Steve Vallas.
1978: Lakeview lettermen are quarterback Randy Miller (with ball) and second row, from left, center Nick Wilber, guard Fred Austin, end Dan Cloe and end Tom Stewart. In back, end David Larrick and halfback Kevin Highly.
1977: Lakeview's defense plus the running of Jeff Leyden played important roles in the 6-0 victory over Sullivan last Friday. Pictured in top row from left are Randy Miller, Neil Thompson, Chuck Hamilton, Fred Austin and Dan Mendenhall. On bottom row from left are Tom Stewart, Danny Russell, Mike Browning, Paul Ware and Bob Kohlbecker. At extreme left is Jim Wills, at right Vincent Peppers.
Lakeview running backs
1979: Bill Godfrey, Eddie Taylorand Lance Broske, left to right, are Lakeview running backs.
1975: Lakeview High football coach Gary Hunt, at right, discusses strategy for tonight's season opener against Clinton with quarterbacks Roy Godfrey, middle, and Brian Birks. Hunt has indicated he will start Birks, a 160-pound junior, at quarterback while the 200-pound Godfrey will start as a defensive tackle. A senior letterman, Godfrey is also expected to see some action at quarterback.
1973: Lakeview High School football team
1980: Senior backs Terry Causey, left, and Bill Godfrey.
1976: Lakeview quarterback Brian Birks is backed by Del Findley, Dean Larrick, Randy Miller and Dave Larrick.
1977: Lakeview lettermen linemen include, left to right, Dan Mendenall, Doug Lamb, Bud Eaton, Joe Baietto, Dan Myers, Roger Chandler, Neil Thompson.
Making a point
1983: Eisenhower High School's Wayne Glenn, with his holder Jerome Harrison, hope to make plenty of points after touchdowns in the opening football game Friday night at 7:30 at Pigott Field against Stephen Decatur. Eisenhower won last year's game 14-13.
A big day
1991: Running back Antwan Perry slips past a MacArthur defender during an Eisenhower 21-14 overtime victory Friday. Perry rushed for 99 yards and recorded three touchdowns, including the game winner - a 7-yard pass reception.
All-city prep team
1965: Eisenhower's Steve McAdamis, Ward Derlitzki, Carl Jenkins, Terry Tuley, Mahlon Sanders, Tom Cox, Dave Corey.
1957: These six Eisenhower gridders will be playing against the alma mater where they where they won varsity football letters last season tonight when the Panthers meet Stephen Decatur. They are, front row left to right, U.L. Neubob and George Dickinson, halfbacks. Back row, Clint Joyner, tackle; Jim Lyles, halfback; Tom Brabender, center; and Dennis Chaney, tackle. Chaney may see only limited action, however. He has an infected finger.
1990: Fighting for the QB job are, left to right, Julian Watson, Maxie Johnson and Todd Jacobs.
1975: These five Eisenhower High defensive linemen will again be relied upon to stop the opponent's offense when the Panthers take on Champaign Centennial tonight at Pigott Field in a Capitol Conference game. In front are Steve Schmidt, left, and Kevin Deardorff. From left to right in back are Mark Cooley, Tim Rutherford and Steve Fleming.
Five of the backs
1957: Five of the backs drilling under Head Coach John Alexander at Eisenhower are Jim Lyles, U.L. Neubon, Bob Harris, Dave Siweck and George Dickinson.
1991: MacArthur quarterback Greg Jones fumbles the football as he is sacked by Eisenhower linebacker Brian Cole. Jones was sacked 11 times by the Eisenhower defense.
1985: Elliott Kennedy was instrumental in MacArthur's victory over Belleville West Saturday.
1989: MacArthur H.S. players, from left, Aaron Brown, James Cleaves and Hassan Helm.
First line of defense
1985: MacArthur's first line of defense is front, from left, Eric Fisher, Pete Scott, Ty Mason, John Crawford, James Cruthird and Jerry Mogan. Back row, Joe Wagner, Scott Walter, Dion Henderson, Roy Coker and Todd Kovaleski.
1975: Matt Tyner, MacArthur High quarterback, left, gives some instructions to his starting backfield teammates in preparation for the Generals' big game Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. against crosstown rival Eisenhower at Matheson Field. Listening to Tyner are running backs Carl Spence, Zannie Rawls and Art Perkins. The Generals need a victory over Eisenhower to gain a share of the Capitol Conference title.
Playing for Generals
1972: Members of the undefeated MacArthur High football team, which goes against Eisenhower Friday night, are from left to right: offensive tackle Bob Whitten, Roger Waller of the kickoff team and offensive guard Steve Meinhold. At right is assistant coach Bill Moutray. Below, left to right, are end Mike Shaw and safety Richard Muse.
1989: Coach Bill Vangel and running back Nick Reed are two big reasons MacArthur has qualified for the Class 5A high school football playoffs. MacArthur will play host to Edwardsville (6-3) in Wednesday's first round.
Returning to the line
1988: Returning to the line are (from left) Jason Crawford, Aaron Brown, Trevor Hammond, Gary Casner and Travis Wilks.
1983: Members of the MacArthur High School football team give their muscles a workout during a recent weight-a-thon to raise money for the purchase of more weights. Their goal was $500, but some extra pumping netted a total of $600. Donations were based on pounds liften. MacArthur coach Brian Hodges directed the fundraiser.
St. Teresa running backs
1991: St. Teresa running backs, from left to right, Matt Moody, Goh Nakanishi, John Graves and Josh Snyder.
1975: Hewey Tweedy of Anna-Jonesboro, at right, president of the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors, presents championship trophy to acting St. Teresa game tri-captains, from left, Bill Cloyd, Russ Hollingsworth and Jerry Jones. Jones was the Bulldogs; individual standout, setting rushing and touchdown records. Harry Fitzhugh, IHSA executive secretary, is behind Jones.
1930: The St. Teresa H.S. football team, the first team ever organized at the school.
St. Teresa's defense
1974: St. Teresa's defense is unscored upon in four games. Some of the mainstays include from left, Marty Leech, Chris Schroth, Dave Peters (front), Scott Feldman and Bill Cloyd. St. Teresa plays tonight at Lakeview.
Looking for a winning season
1987: From left, St. Teresa's Jim Passarelli, David Noonan and Joe Wagner look for a winning season.
We are the champions
1974: Chuck Vercellino, left, and Pat Doyle hold aloft the championship trophy while teammates signal where Bulldogs finished in Class 2-A playoffs.
1991: St. Teresa senior back Gene Stimler, center, is congratulated on the sidelines by assistant coach John Burke after scoring in the second half Wednesday against Macon. Teammate Pat Heneghan (21) is at right. St. Teresa defeated Macon, 28-6, in the opening game of the state high school football playoffs.
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25