GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Rick Wells hasn’t caught any passes yet for Florida, in part because he hasn’t caught many breaks either.
A hamstring issue derailed Wells last summer and through the first part of his freshman season before the Gators decided to redshirt him. Then he had an unspecified leg injury that required surgery and kept him out of spring practice.
But Gators coach Jim McElwain expressed confidence that the second-year wide receiver could yet emerge as an option for the offense in 2017.
“He’s one of those guys that I’m still … this guy’s going to play for the Gators,” McElwain said last week during his spring speaking tour. “He had injured a hamstring as a freshman. Never really became full bore until the end of the year and then at that time we made the decision to redshirt him. Certainly was ready to play, in fact was the MVP of one of our final scrimmages during bowl week. So he’s a guy that had a great offseason. It was just a very misfortunate kind of freaky thing that happened just doing some conditioning.
“And yet, as disappointed as he was, I’m really excited the way he’s attacked his rehab and not feeling sorry for himself. I think that’s a credit to his family that is very supportive and are great people.”
Wells came to Florida as a 3-star recruit out of Raines High School in Jacksonville.
He and fellow incoming wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland got off to an inauspicious start, being arrested after a regrettable BB gun incident last summer that would result in a one-game suspension, but that’s not what kept Wells off the field.
The hamstring injury cost him a shot to compete with other young Gators receivers and earn a role last summer. Much the same could be said about missing spring practice.
“Anytime things don’t go according to the plans in your eyes it’s frustrating, but as I told him it’s part of the process,” Raines football coach Deran Wiley said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about just fighting back. … So he understands that and he has a great work ethic and great attitude.”
Wiley said a bunch of his former players now with college programs — Wells included — recently returned to Jacksonville to visit.
He wasn’t able to offer any specificity on Wells’ leg injury or recovery, but Wiley saw Wells walking like normal and working out in the high school’s weight room. At the end of spring practice, the Gators listed Wells as one of three players not yet on track to be cleared for the start of fall camp while noting that could change.
“It wasn’t too serious. He’ll be back for the season,” Wiley said. “When I saw him he was moving around well. I don’t know what it was, if it was a scope or something, but he’ll be ready for the fall.”
Wells had 29 receptions for 512 yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior to help Raines to a Class 4A state championship game appearance in 2015. He caught 29 passes for 749 yards and 6 touchdowns as a junior.
Wiley says Wells, listed at 6-feet, 206 pounds, is “physically imposing” on the field with great ball skills and route-running abilities that he believes will transfer well to the college level. Eventually.
The wide receiver position is a little more crowded for the Gators now than it was last year.
Antonio Callaway and Cleveland are locked in as the primary outside targets while Brandon Powell and Dre Massey (back from a torn ACL) will compete for slot duties. Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond both had encouraging moments as true freshmen last season while Wells was sidelined. Intriguing freshmen newcomers James Robinson and Daquon Green are expected to join the mix this summer.
It sounds like Wells still has the confidence of McElwain, though, which is important. And according to Wiley, Wells is not lacking for belief in himself either.
“His confidence, I believe, is sky high. Just like at every level, he understands you have to prove yourself. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past. He’s really confident he’ll prove his value this year,” Wiley said. “In college if you’re not practicing you’re not playing, so that hamstring issue just took its toll on his opportunity to get a chance to play. But he’s overcome those things, so he’ll be fine in the fall.”