September 2, 2014

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Ex-OSU star Beanie Wells preparing for life after football

Beanie Wells

Beanie Wells

GREEN — Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh were standing in the corner of the Baltimore Ravens’ practice facility when the gunshot went off.

At least Beanie Wells thought it was a gunshot.

On Oct. 22, Wells, a former Garfield High School and Ohio State standout running back, was trying out after being released by the Arizona Cardinals in March. Wells said he had been told the Ravens merely needed to see him run, presumably to prove he had recovered from surgery on his right knee after the 2012 season.

Wells was about 10 minutes into drills when he heard the loud pop that Newsome and Harbaugh immediately recognized.

It was Wells’ left Achilles, completely torn in an instant.

“I was shocked at how loud it was,” Wells said. “They say it’s the strongest tendon in your body.”

Wells said he was “heartbroken” by what happened, especially since he thought he would be a member of the defending Super Bowl champions by the end of the day.

He had signed a waiver absolving the Ravens of responsibility if he were hurt, so he immediately flew home.

Two months later, Wells has gained perspective. Only 25, he thinks he will play in the NFL next year. Although he hasn’t missed a football season since he was 6 years old, he believes the time off will help his body recover from the pounding it has taken.

But if injuries continue to plague him, Wells has begun the transition to life after football and feels good about the direction he’s headed.

Twelve hours away from graduating from Ohio State with a communications degree next summer, he works as a college football analyst for WBNS-TV in Columbus, doing studio segments twice a week. He flies to Chicago for occasional appearances on the Big Ten Network. He just bought a home in Westerville for himself and sons Christian, 4, and Christopher, 2. The boys’ mother lives nearby. He visits his mother, Paulette Wells, and grandmother, Florence Wheeler, in northeast Ohio.

One of 11 children, five of them adopted, Wells is also trying to find ways to give back.

At Thanksgiving, he donated 250 turkeys to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank. He’s revisiting his idea of launching an after-school program in Columbus, prompted by the years he spent in one directed by former Olympic sprinter Butch Reynolds in the Akron Public Schools.

“When I evaluate everything and put things in perspective, that’s enough for me to be grateful for, whether that’s football or the next part of my life,” Wells said Friday during an interview at the Giant Eagle Market District store in Green.

“Believe it or not, there were only a few things I wanted to do growing up. One was be a firefighter, two was play football and three was do broadcasting. So everything’s lining up into place.”

A first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, Wells considered starting an after-school program early in his NFL career, but he didn’t have time to explore it until now. He will ditch his walking boot in about 10 days and will soon start using Ohio State’s underwater treadmill and rehab on campus. But he doesn’t expect to be cleared for football activities until early May.

This time away from the game has taken him back to his mission of helping younger kids.

“That’s something I always wanted to do, help at-risk youth,” Wells said. “I always thought between the ages of 13 and 18 was the biggest point for me in my life. That’s a big age range to help mold somebody’s future. There’s a lot of kids who go left instead of going right and it doesn’t end up well for them.”

Wells said when he was in middle school and high school, he faithfully attended Reynolds’ after-school program so he could finish his homework away from the chaos of his 13-member household. He tutored younger children there starting when he was 13.

“It’s definitely something that’s needed,” Wells said. “A lot of times kids don’t have that structure at home. Some parents work, they’re going to want to have their kids in this program. One, it’s keeping them off the streets and out of trouble. Two, it’s helping advance their studies.”

Wells recently spoke at a school in the Columbus area and when he mentioned his plan, students and staff warmly embraced it.

But it could take a year or more to launch. Wells eventually hopes to expand it to Akron if he can find the right people to run it.

“He’s got a passion to do it,” Wells’ agent Adam Heller said by telephone Monday. “He can bring people together and do a lot of great things.

“This injury has opened his eyes to focusing on what’s next.”

That doesn’t mean Wells is ready to put football aside. Despite his recent inactivity, he watches what he eats and remains at his playing weight of 235 pounds. Working out at the Resolute Athletic Complex at Easton in suburban Columbus, he was appalled that pizza and potato chips were the only food offerings for high school soccer, rugby and lacrosse players who train there, so he opened a smoothie bar.

“Any time you have a serious injury, especially in football because of the short life span of the position, you always worry,” Wells said. “I try not to dwell on it. I try to take care of my body so when I get a phone call, I’m prepared.”

If his injury history scares away NFL teams this spring, Wells will focus on his sons, broadcasting and charity.

“I love playing football. That’s been a dream of mine since I can remember,” Wells said. “Granted, I fulfilled that dream, but I still want to keep on doing it. If it didn’t happen, I would be disappointed, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

“This game doesn’t last forever. Injuries happen; life happens.”