Aug. 13, 2009
by Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE -- The mental hurdle to rehabilitate from one season-ending injury is enough to crush even the most physically gifted players in football. When it happens in back-to-back years, the effects can be devastating.
This was the challenge put to senior safety Jason Wells, who has seen two years wiped away because of injuries. During the fifth game of the 2007 season against USC, Wells shredded his ACL. After a grueling rehab, followed by a redshirt season in 2008, Wells felt confident enough to begin working out with the team this past winter. During a conditioning exercise, he felt a twinge in his Achilles tendon after pushing off with his right foot. Despite some initial observations that the injury was minor, Wells eventually learned otherwise -- the tendon was completely torn.
Prior to those setbacks, Wells was cementing himself as a physical presence as a starter in the defensive backfield. Bigger than a lot of safeties at 6-2, 214 pounds, Wells played with an edge that belied his soft-spoken, articulate persona off the field. The question now is whether injuries have robbed him of the confidence to play in that same style. Wells has already acknowledged that he's not 100 percent confident on his legs, and that some days there is still pain.
"It's harder to trust it now," Wells said.
But he's still brought a blue-collar mentality to Husky Stadium for fall practice, eager to get on the field any way he can, whether that is special teams or in the rotation of defensive backs remains to be seen. Of course the competitive side of Wells would like to see a full return as a starter. Even so, Wells admitted one of the main reasons he's playing this year is to embrace the camaraderie with his defensive teammates that football often fosters.
"Mostly that was the desire to get back," Wells said. "I want to play with my teammates, and that's what motivates me. I want to be on the field with them."
In what capacity his role will be remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Wells watched from the sidelines as his defensive teammates supplied some bone-jarring hits to the Huskies offense. This brought praise from coach Steve Sarkisian, who was quick to point out that the defense dominated the day's practice.
"Generally speaking, the defense brings that intensity first, and then the offense has to react to it," Sarkisian said. "I thought, early in practice, our defense was really getting after it."
"All of the safeties are doing a great job right now," Wells said. "I just can't wait to be a part of it."
Wells has practiced this fall but acknowledged feeling rust. He's not sure when the point will come when he's stopped thinking about the injuries, and begins reacting naturally to situations on the field. But if he wants to play, Wells has no choice but to shake off the cobwebs and put the injuries past him. And he gave credit to the new coaching staff for instilling the mantra that the best player will play at each position, so if Wells is unable to secure a regular playing role, he knows it won't be for any other reason other than his ability.
"I know it's going to take time to be able to hit like I was used to," Wells said. "I had to be patient with my ACL and now I have to be patient with my Achilles."
POST-PRACTICE UPDATE: The Huskies got their first dose of rain during the course of their fourth practice of the fall Thursday afternoon.
A workout that began under relatively sunny skies ended in rainfall, but the Huskies took it in stride and finished up strong.
Among those in attendance were a smattering of Husky football alumni, including (likely, among others), former player, assistant coach and head coach Jim Lambright, quarterbacks Brock Huard and Tim Cowan, as well as Aaron Williams and Dan Milsten. Husky volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin and assistant Leslie Tuiasosopo took in a large portion of the session as well.
Much of the day's work focused on third down situations and the day's "winner" (offense or defense) had yet to be determined, according to Coach Steve Sarkisian, who said he thought the offense won, but that the staff would have to have a deeper look at things later on Thursday to work it out.
Sarkisian praised the work of the skill players on offense in getting the job done on third-down plays. Among the notable highlights were a 75-yard TD reception from fullback Tobias Togi. On the defensive side, linebacker Cort Dennison notched an interception that he ran back for a score.
Friday, the Dawgs don the full pads for the first time this fall in another 3:00 p.m. practice. Saturday is the first double-day off the season and, with no practice Sunday, the traditional Picture Day is on tap, starting at 10:00 a.m.