COLUMBUS – After three seasons at Ohio State, Chris Wells will take his game to the next level. The junior tailback officially announced his decision forgo a senior season in Columbus in favor of the National Football League in release by the university Thursday afternoon.
"This has been a difficult decision, but in the best interest of my family, I have decided to enter my name into the 2009 National Football League draft," Wells said.
His decision comes one day after a similar announcement by Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno and the two are expected to be the top running backs off the board in April's NFL Draft. It also comes just three days after the Buckeyes finished their 2008-09 season with a 24-21 loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. Wells ran for 106 yards on 16 carries in what we now know was his final game as a Buckeye, but he missed most of the second half after suffering a concussion.
It was not the way Wells wanted to end his career at Ohio State – with his team suffering its third straight bowl loss while he watched from the sideline – but that injury was yet another reminder of how short the playing career of an NFL running back can be. After playing through an ankle injury and two wrist injuries last season, Wells missed three games in 2008 after injuring his foot in the season opener against Youngstown State. He has played most of his college career at 75 percent health, which is a major reason he will leave behind the things he loves most to cash in on his God-given abilities.
"There are a lot of things I know I will miss: just being in the locker room, spending time with my teammates, playing in the Michigan game, just all the aspects of being at Ohio State that make it such a special place," the Akron native said. "But in the best interest of my family, it's time to move on and take a chance at fulfilling my lifetime dream of playing in the NFL."
Buckeye fans were spoiled a year ago when high profile juniors James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and a handful of others opted to return for their senior seasons rather than make the early jump. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has long been a supporter of his players taking the next step if they are projected to go in the first round. Last month he admitted to advising Wells not even to turn in paperwork because 'he could tell him where he would go.'
"Ohio State football will miss Beanie's big runs, but we will also miss his big smile," Tressel said. "He has been a tremendous teammate and one of the all-time great performers in the greatest rivalry in college football. He will always be an ambassador for Ohio State and all of us wish him well."
In his three seasons at Ohio State, the former Rivals.com five-star prospect become one of the most loved – both by his teammates and fans – and most productive backs in school history. Voted the Buckeyes' MVP in 2007 and 2008, the Akron native had 16 career games of 100 yards or more and scored 30 career touchdowns. He set the Ohio State-Michigan game rushing record with 222 yards in 2007 and moved in to fourth place on the school's all-time rushing list this season with 3,382 career yards.
"I want to thank my teammates, my coaches, my teachers and the academic advisers for all they have done, and I definitely want to thank the Buckeye fans for all their support," Wells said. "Ohio State has become like a family to me, and it will always be that way.
"I will always appreciate everything Ohio State has done in helping me grow up and become a man, and I will always be a Buckeye."
The National Football League draft will be held April 25-26, 2009, in New York City and Wells is expected to be among the first 15-20 names called. January 15 is the deadline for players to declare their early entry into the draft.
With Beanie and Maurice Wells leaving, the Buckeyes return redshirt freshman Dan Herron and sophomore Brandon Saine at tailback. Herron finished third on the team in rushing this season with 439 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged nearly five yards per carry and scored the go-ahead touchdown against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Buckeyes are also set to add three tailbacks in the class of 2009 led by Jaamal Berry. The four-star prospect from Miami, Fla. is the No.7 tailback in the class of '09. He is expected to be joined in the class by fellow Florida four-star Carlos Hyde and Penn. four-star Jordan Hall, who played alongside current OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor at Jeannette.
Brandon Castel is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.