There's no doubt about it: Aaron Wells was one of those hotshot, can't-miss prospect coming out of middle school. With uncanny speed and sparkling moves, the Columbia Eagles youth-league product seemed destined for greatness in Howard County.
"We all knew about Aaron Wells," said Brian Van Deusen, head coach of nearby River Hill High. "But sometimes we lose the kids we want."
Indeed, Wells, the next big thing in Howard County, shunned his hometown school for the glamour of private-school power Good Counsel. Simply put, visions of Division-I scholarships were dancing in his head.
But sometimes the grass isn't greener.
Wells barely got started at Good Counsel before a broken arm forced him to miss his entire freshman season. Shaken but hardly beaten, Wells trained with the full intention of making varsity the next year. But with stars like Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs in front of him, he didn't get the chance. Instead, Wells ripped apart the jayvee, gaining around 100 yards in practically every game.
That performance should have solidified his status as a varsity runner, but Wells wasn't guaranteed a prominent role. He grew disenchanted with Good Counsel. Wells wanted to come home.
"I knew if I stayed gat Good Counsel and worked hard I could have started down the line," Wells said. "But money played an issue and River Hill, a really good program for football and academics, was right there for me. So I took that opportunity."
Wells' father had recently moved into the River Hill district, which allowed his son to suit up for the Hawks. Van Deusen, recalling Wells from his Columbia Eagles days, was excited. With those scintillating runs permanently imprinted on his brain, the coach couldn't wait for summer practice to begin, especially after he saw Wells' sculpted 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame.
"Once he hit the field," Van Deusen said, "we knew he'd be a big-play threat for us."
River Hill junior linebacker Riley Davis, who played next to Wells on defense last year, remembers that first practice clearly. Like his teammates, Davis knew about Wells' reputation, but he was still surprised that this low-key, soft-spoken kid could run with such reckless abandon.
"He's one of those guys who speaks softly but carries a big stick," Davis said. "But once he hit the field he just lit it up. He outran our entire defense. We graduated [running back] Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) the year before, so we lost our flashy playmaker. When Aaron came in, he gave us the spark we were missing."
Practices and scrimmages are one thing, but Wells' vindication didn't come until his first varsity game under the Friday night lights.
In Week 1 against Hammond, Wells had something to prove.
"Even though I left on my own terms, I felt Good Counsel really didn't believe in me," Wells said. "I came out and played like they made a mistake."
Wells proceeded to rush for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
That's one awfully big mistake.
As it turned out, the mistake grew substantially bigger with each passing week. Wells racked up three 200-yard games, eight 100-yard games and averaged over 10 yards per carry. He ended the season with around 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"Aaron never had a bad game," Van Deusen said. "His speed was just off the charts, among the fastest I've seen. We had him timed at a 4.39 [40-yard dash] more than once."
Speed most definitely sells, but Wells is more than just a track burner. In fact, he shies away from mentioning his whirling wheels; he believes it overshadows the rest of his game.
"I think my quickness and vision play a bigger part in how I run," Wells said. "I can make people miss and I can pound, too. I have a huge lower body like Maurice Jones Drew."
Riley can attest to that. The Hawks' inside linebacker had to track Wells down every day in practice, which was often harder then the 'backs he had to catch during games.
"Even in practice he goes all out," Riley said. "He'll blow right by you with his speed, but he's also one of the strongest guys on the team, and he's just so quick. I mean he can put his foot in the ground and just take off. You'll be right there for the tackle, but he'll burn you with his cut back and make you look real bad."
He made an entire team look bad in Week 2. Centennial was powerless against his potpourri of cuts, stiff-arms and open-field dashes. By the end of the night, Wells had broken the 200-yard mark, rushed for five touchdowns and tied the longest run in school history.
Early in the game, River Hill was backed up on their own 10-yard line. The call came in for a pitch to Wells. The young 'back took the toss, sidestepped through a hole, broke an ankle tackle and motored by the entire secondary. By the time he crossed the opposite goal line -- some 90 yards downfield -- there wasn't a defender within 30 yards of him.
"I turned it into a track meet," Wells said. "That was my breakout moment."
Runs like that have Van Deusen waxing nostalgic. The longtime River Hill coach is about ready to put Wells alongside all-time Hawks greats like Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Malek Redd (Central Michigan) and Mike Campanero (Wake Forest), all of whom ran sub-4.4 40s.
"If he continues to work, he'll be right at that level," Van Deusen said. "College coaches love speed, and when they see him run the offers are going to start rolling in."
But, like the coach said, Wells has to work. He's got to develop his upper-body strength; he has to be a more punishing, between the-tackles runner; and his hands could use a little fine-tuning.
Don't expect Wells to sell himself short. That chip from his Good Counsel days? Well, it's still planted firmly on his shoulder.
"I still have to prove myself," Wells said. "I'm not stopping until I get 2,000 yards, a state championship and a Division-I scholarship. I'm determined to get there. I overcame the obstacles once before. And I can do it again."