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Panthers' Wells happy to be playing again
Austin Wells’ football career is going forward again.
At the same time, he’s come full circle.
“I was a Panther back in high school,” said Wells. “I’m back to being a Panther.”
Wells is now a senior tight end at Northern Iowa. During his high school days in Nebraska, he starred for the Norfolk Panthers. At UNI, he’s played in two games, starting one and splitting time at tight end with Darion Howard.
“It’s very satisfying,” said Wells, who’s caught two passes in 2011. “We rotate a lot. I’m just happy to be playing again and having a chance to be playing somewhere.”
When Wells wasn’t a Panther, he was a Maverick, and that’s where his football career stalled through no fault of his own.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Wells spent four years at Nebraska-Omaha. Following a redshirt season in 2007, he appeared in 29 games for the Mavericks and caught 35 passes.
Then, last March, Wells got a phone call from some friends. A story on the internet said UNO would drop its football and wrestling programs as part of a move to Division I. Eventually, Wells got an e-mail announcing a meeting. That’s where the official word came. Goodbye, UNO football. Hello … to what?’
“I had no idea,” said Wells. “I was just hoping to find a place to play football. I mean, I knew the rules. I would be able to play instead of sitting out a year. I was hoping someone would be willing to take me, being a senior and all.”
That “someone” turned out to be head coach Mark Farley and UNI.
When the Panthers coaches heard that UNO football was over, they also went to the Internet, but as a recruiting tool. With Ryan Mahaffey and Schuylar Oort gone, they needed tight ends.
There was Wells, UNO’s second tight end behind Mike Higgins. Higgins went on to the NFL and New Orleans. Wells looked good to Farley.
“When we watched him on film, we saw a guy with a great attitude to be a tight end,” said Farley. “He was nasty and he was scrambling blocks. He had effort and he loves the game.”
Wells said he knew UNI had a traditionally strong Football Championship Subdivision program. He didn’t know about the absence of experienced tight ends.
After sorting through roughly 50 schools spread from Division II to FCS to the Football Bowl Subdivision, Wells opted for UNI. He arrived in May and went to work.
“I knew they were competing for a championship,” said Wells. “Me, being a senior, I wanted to compete for a championship somewhere. Basically, that was my main reasoning in coming here.
“I had to come in and prove myself even more than I did at my old school because I was one of their top guys. I had to come in here (at UNI) and play hard and earn my spot and see what happens.”
What happened was, the transition has been a smooth one, said Wells. Overall, UNI’s offense is similar to what UNO ran.
In several respects, life as a Panther has been better, he said.
“This team was a lot closer than what we had at UNO,” said Wells. “Everybody gets along, the (weight) lifting was amazing. Everything was pretty solid.”
And the same could be said about Wells himself, according to Farley.
“What sold it was, he’s mature,” said the UNI coach. “It was like bringing a senior into our program that wanted to be here. He came in and really got acquainted with our players. You gotta sell yourself to the players. Just by working side-by-side with them, he became friends with them.
“That’s why it was such a good transition. He fits our team and our personnel and fits the personality as well.”
By JIM SULLIVAN, Sioux City Journal