Senior hadn't played since September 2007 before returning to action last week.
The frustration of more than two years on the sideline exploded out of Washington safety Jason Wells as he slammed into UCLA tight end Logan Paulson in the first half Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
The UW senior hadn’t played since Sept. 29, 2007, blowing out his ACL against USC at Husky Stadium. That began a string of injuries that had Wells thinking for a while he might never get on the field again.
That he can still play, however, was evident when he leveled Paulson, then later picked off a pass and finished with six tackles in UW’s 24-23 loss.
With so much turnover on the roster since he last played, Wells said it was nice just to show his teammates again he’s really one of them.
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“It was like, ‘Wow, you finally got out there, you finally did it, you finally hit people, it’s no longer talk,’ ” Wells said. “I actually showed that I can do it.”
In an unfortunate ‘what else can happen’ twist, Wells had to leave late in the game with a plantar fasciitis injury, and sat out much of practice this week as a result. But coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday he expected Wells to play Saturday at Oregon State.
Sarkisian said Wells was “a lot better today. … I think he’s healing fine.”
The Huskies will try to get as much out of Wells as they can, saying he brings an experienced presence to the secondary that has been missing much of this season. The 6-foot-2, 214-pounder started 11 games in 2006 and 2007 before being injured.
Cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin, who coached Wells at Mt. Sac Junior College, said Wells’ experience “freed everybody else up. The simple fact that now we have two safeties back there who know exactly what to do, that’s what freed Nate Williams up to play like he did [eight tackles] with no missed tackles. He didn’t have to worry about getting the whole defense lined up. He just worried about his half of the field. That’s the kind of comfort you want your safeties to bring.”
It was Martin who helped transform Wells, who enrolled at Mt. SAC because he wanted to keep playing football but had no other options and not because of academics. Wells was playing primarily tight end at the time, but Martin thought he’d be a better fit as a safety and helped move him to defense.
The move paid off as Wells quickly earned attention and chose the Huskies over Marshall, almost immediately moving into the starting lineup in 2006.
But eight plays after the first interception of his career, he tore his ACL tackling USC running back C.J. Gable. Rather than rushing back, Wells redshirted the 2008 season, a plan that seemed on course until he tore his Achilles one day in March during an early-morning team run.
Wells missed the spring but was getting close to 100 percent when he reinjured the Achilles early in fall camp. It was that injury he thought might consign him to the bench for good.
“That really set me back because I thought, like, I’m missing my opportunities just because I’m hurt again,” he said. “But you’ve just got to keep fighting and battling, and seeing that the coaches weren’t giving up on me was a great opportunity that I got.”
And rather than lament the time he’s missed, he’s thankful for what he’s gotten out of UW, including a degree in African-American political economy. Wells will graduate at the end of this quarter.
“It’s nice just to get that opportunity to go out there and run around and still feel as fast as I did before,” he said.
• The 102nd Apple Cup, between Washington and Washington State on Nov. 28 at Husky Stadium, will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised on FSN.
• Oregon State’s running backs coach is Reggie Davis, who played at UW from 1995-98 and is best known for making a 63-yard TD catch on a fourth-down pass from Brock Huard to win at Arizona State in 1998.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org