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Long shot? Yes, but opportunity knocks
St. Aug’s Wells driven to make Panthers' roster
 
Published Thursday, June 6, 2013 9:00 am
by Herbert L. White

 

Kindergarteners taught Justin Wells valuable lessons in humility.

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PHOTO/KENT SMITH
ASt. Augustine’s graduate Justin Wells (79) stretches before a Carolina Panthers workout in Charlotte. Wells, a guard who was cut by Carolina in training camp last year, is looking to earn a spot on the opening day roster.


The Carolina Panthers guard has spent parts of the last two years as a substitute teacher in Baltimore where his charges were quick to let the 6-3, 322-pounder know he hadn’t accomplished anything in the NFL.


“They were like, ‘You’re real big,’” Wells said. “And I would them I was playing football and they’d be like whatever. I’m from Baltimore and our kids will tell you straight up how they feel, so they were like ‘You ain’t playing in the NFL.’ I said I was and I’ll be back there.”


So Wells, a 2011 graduate of Division II St. Augustine’s, is in Charlotte, where he faces steep odds to make the Panthers’ opening day roster. But he understands things change quickly in the NFL and preparation is the only way to seize an opportunity with an offensive line that has a good mix of veterans and youth.


“I knew my opportunity would come,” he said. “I just had to keep trusting.”


Carolina showed the most interest in Wells, but not until he wound up in the Arena Football League with the Pittsburgh Power, where he played a handful of games before signing with the Panthers just before training camp. He was one of the final cuts in September and after the rest of the league passed on his services, it was back to teaching and wondering about the future.


“There were a lot of nights when I was like, ‘Man I got a degree (political science), maybe I need to go ahead and get me a job,’” he said. “It just seemed like God wanted to open other windows.”


Carolina opened a big one re-signing Wells in January. The rest, he figures, is on his shoulders.


“Nothing but God kept me going on this journey, to be honest with you,” he said. “There are a lot of days when you feel like quitting and people say negative things like you got in there and didn’t even make it. The one thing about the NFL is nothing is guaranteed until you sign it.”


Wells is more encouraged by his chances this year. He spent the offseason working out in Charlotte and has participated in every organized team activity, or OTA, which has familiarized him with mental and physical preparation.


“I feel as though it’s very important because last year I was coming in on like, a whim and I had to prove myself but I really didn’t have the knowledge of where I was going half the time. By doing this OTA, I know my plays way more and I understand the concepts of the plays so when I get out there…I’m able to maneuver and pick up the person I need to pick up to get the job done.


Wells is also in better shape after dropping eight pounds to get to 322 and improved his strength to squat-lift 715 pounds.
“That’s how hard I was training,” he said. “We’re competing to make us better.”


And humble enough to remember the admonition from Baltimore’s kids to make good.

 

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