Tressel says Wells pivotal reason for Ohio State#8217;s success

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2007

COLUMBUS — Promise doesn’t equal production. That’s something Ohio State’s Chris ‘‘Beanie’’ Wells has learned during his brief college career.

One of the nation’s most acclaimed recruits when he came to campus 18 months ago, Wells had to put all that potential in his hip pocket and prove himself before blossoming into a sophomore star for the top-ranked Buckeyes.

‘‘What has Beanie Wells meant?’’ coach Jim Tressel said. ‘‘Oh, man. We wouldn’t be right here … if it weren’t for Beanie Wells.’’

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Where the Buckeyes are is 11-1 and headed for a date with LSU in the Bowl Championship Series national title game on Jan. 7 at the Louisiana Superdome.

Wells, a bit player a year ago when the Buckeyes made it to the title game, inherited the tailback job when Antonio Pittman decided to give up his senior season to make himself available for the NFL draft.

No one doubted that Wells could be a great back. After all, he was considered one of the top rushers in the nation during his days at Akron’s Garfield High School, where he rushed for 1,939 yards as a junior and 2,134 more his senior year, while totaling 47 touchdowns.

With the size (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and speed (a 4.5-second 40-yard dash) to run both inside and out, he was precisely the kind of back that thrives in Tressel’s multiple offense.

But the problem was that Wells had been erratic in his first season with the Buckeyes. One minute he was pounding downfield for crucial yards in a short-yardage situation, and the next he was coughing up the ball.

Wells rushed for 576 yards and picked up 5.6 yards a carry, but he also lost four fumbles — some of which put the Buckeyes in dire straits. During one four-game stretch, he turned the ball over three times, resulting in a lengthy trip to the bench during the Illinois game.

So even though that raw promise was there going into the 2007 season, no one knew which Wells would show up: the runner or the fumbler.

After 12 games, it’s clear what the answer is. An All-Big Ten selection, Wells has piled up 1,463 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He already has two of the top 10 rushing games ever at Ohio State, which is saying something at a school that has churned out Heisman winning-running backs Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Les Horvath, Vic Janowicz and Howard ‘‘Hopalong’’ Cassady.

in addition to NFL stars like John Brockington, Robert Smith and Keith Byars.

Wells owned the state of Michigan this season, first going for 221 yards and a touchdown in a tight 24-17 win against Michigan State on Oct. 20.

‘‘I didn’t know if he was going to play; that’s how bad he was hobbling,’’ Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said after seeing Wells in pregame warmups. ‘‘But once he got loosened up, I guess it kicked in, and he played very well.’’

Wells then endeared himself forever to Buckeyes fans by rumbling for 222 yards and both scores in a 14-3 victory over rival Michigan on Nov. 17.

Most importantly, despite taking some vicious hits and carrying more times than he ever had before, Wells held onto the football like he was embracing a partner on ‘‘Dancing With The Stars.’’

‘‘We lose Antonio Pittman and we gained Beanie Wells,’’ offensive tackle Kirk Barton said. ‘‘He’s as good as anyone.’’

When the regular season ended, Wells was selected as the Buckeyes’ most valuable player.

‘‘It’s great that my teammates voted me that award,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a tremendous honor. I was surprised. I was really surprised by that.’’

Some of Wells’ biggest games came when he was hurting. An ankle injury has been bothering him all season. His limp has been noticeable at times as he comes to the sideline after taking a hit. On top of that, he wore a brace on his left hand in the days leading up to the Michigan game because of a broken bone near the thumb. He will likely need surgery after the title game.

‘‘As a running back that’s something you have to expect,’’ he said of all the bumps and bruises. ‘‘You’re going to get beat up week in and week out.’’

Wells prefers to be known as Beanie. He was a skinny kid and his older brother Ray compared him to a string bean. The nickname stuck, even though he has a chiseled physique these days.

Wells said he’s looking forward to visiting New Orleans for the first time. He’s heard a lot about the city and he wants to see the French Quarter and some of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Oh, and he wants to experience one other thing in the Big Easy.

‘‘Becoming a national champion,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s about it.’’