With the city series championship of Akron on the line and a potential trip
to the post-season in the offing as well, the game between Garfield and Buchtel
was over almost as soon as it began.
Ohio State verbal Tony Pittman of Buchtel started to his left, cut up field and raced 43 yards for a score to give the Griffins a 7-0 lead with 10:56 showing on the scoreboard in the first period. Buchtel went on to win 41-0 as Pittman, who rushed for 159 yards in the game, added an 8-yard touchdown in the third period to give the Griffins a 35-0 lead at the time.
"I feel great," said Pittman after the game referring to his previously injured turf-toe that he's adapted well to playing with. "I'm about 85 to 90 percent, but it feels a lot better."
Pittman (left), who was still hoping to get a qualifying score the following day on his ACT so he can enroll early at OSU, looked a lot sharper than he did just two weeks prior when I saw him play against Akron North.
But I came to this particular game to get my first glimpse of Garfield sophomore Chris Wells. After all that I've heard about him and read about him, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
My initial thought when I first saw Wells prior to the game warming up on the turf at the Rubber Bowl was, "Wow!" I had seen him in person on two different occasions at Ohio Stadium for a Buckeye game so I knew he was a bigger kid, but he looked great in person on the field.
"I think the sky's the limit with him," said Garfield head coach Bob Sax. "But something that everybody needs to remember is that he's still just a sophomore."
Sax said that overall, Wells became a better football player this year.
"He's kind of picked up on what it means to block and how playing within the team aspect of it goes," the coach said. "If you give him a hole, he's going to take it to the house. He's a great runner. But I think this year overall he became a better running back in general, and if he stays after it, I think you can look for some big things out of him in the next two years."
At 6-2, 210, Wells (right) has the type of frame to easily put on another 20 or 30 pounds if he can keep his speed.
"He worked real hard last year in the weight room and he's put on a lot of muscle. He's got the speed and he's got the vision; he's real good in those areas," Sax said. "But he's young, he just turned 15 this year, and he's still going to make some mistakes and he can learn from that. But like I said, the sky, and the potential there, is the limit; he can go as far as he wants."
Unfortunately for Wells, as Pittman was running wild for Buchtel, he never got his game going on the ground.
"We played a terrible game overall. We just got into a rut and they're a good football team," Sax said. "Buchtel is a good team and they had a good game plan all the way around and they limited us. We were in second-and-long and third-and-long situations a lot, and they were crowding the line of scrimmage and they knew he was the guy that they wanted to take care of, and they did a real good job on that."
But Wells indeed had his moments on the defensive side of the ball. With the game still within range and the Griffins driving for another score in the first period, Wells crashed through the line from his outside linebacker spot and caused a fumbled handoff between Buchtel quarterback Steve Walker and Pittman that was recovered by the Rams at their 11 yard line.
"When he was a freshman last year, he started the first game of his freshman year at outside linebacker and had a great game," the coach said. "As a 14-year-old freshman he had 8 tackles, I think one for a loss, and we knew then that he was special. And then I found a way to get him in on the offense and he never came off the offense after that. So he has great potential on both sides of the ball, and he's still young; I don't think he really understands how much of an impact he can have if he's out there every play on both sides of the football.
"So definitely one of the things that we're looking forward to next year is getting him ready to go full-duty on both sides because he seems to have a knack for making those big plays, causing the fumble on Pittman and things like that, so we just have to get him more involved."
Sax is convinced that Wells is destined to have a great future if he is successful in the classroom as well as on the gridiron.
"His dream is that he wants to go to Ohio State and play football, and last year I talked to him about what it's going to take for him to do that," the coach said. "And he responded last year. He was a student. In the second half of the year, he got a 3.8 GPA and a 4.0 the last time, so he's got an average overall of 3.0. He responded to that, so I know that he realizes that he needs to be a student.
"And he also hit the weights, he got bigger and he put on muscle. I expect him to be a guy that's going to go to a major college and I think he understands what it takes right now, it's just getting through some of the growing pains to get there. Everything I've ever called him on, he's responded well to it, so I expect him to keep working hard and be that guy."
And speaking of growing pains, I asked Sax if he thinks Wells might be too big to be a running back in the future.
"It kind of worries you," he responded. "If he keeps getting much bigger, that's something that makes you think. But as long as he doesn't lose that step, he can be one heck of a guy to look at back there running the ball. But we'll just have to play that by ear. If he does keep getting bigger, it's just going to solidify his spot on the defensive side of the ball for sure."
Sax said Wells will probably run track this year for the Rams after skipping both basketball and track in his freshman year.
"He had a foot problem, and he had surgery on it last year, so he couldn't play basketball and he couldn't run track last year; he was just busy rehabbing that," the coach said. "But I think track is going to be the sport for him this spring. He's healthy, and I know he's talked about wanting to run track, and I'm encouraging that too. So I think we'll see him as a track guy."
Of course, there are the whispers of Wells transferring to St. Vincent-St. Mary's or even Buchtel, but Sax is confident Wells will remain at Garfield for the balance of his high school years.
"I feel pretty good about it," he said. "He was a guy that was highly-touted as an eighth-grader, and I feel real happy that he chose to come here. We've had that talk. We've had that talk last year after his freshman year. From what he tells me, and his parents are very supportive and they're a big part of our booster club, I've gotten no indication that any other place is an alternative. So I feel pretty good about this is home and this is where he wants to be."
It wasn't long ago when Antoine Winfield matriculated to Ohio State from Garfield and Wells has aspirations to follow along that same path.
"He's like any kid; he wants to play major college football somewhere, and he'd love to be one of those guys that gets to go to the pros," Sax said. "We've talked about that and we said, ‘If that's something that you want to do, then first and foremost you have to be a good student.' We talk about all of those things and I'm going to continue to talk to him about those things and encourage him to go to camps. He went to the Ohio State camp last year.
"So I'm going to encourage all of those things. Be a student, be involved in learning the game, be a team player, work hard and expose yourself to different camps, and do everything you can to learn about football. If you work hard, good things will happen to you. My coaching staff and myself kind of do that for all the kids, but when you have those special ones, you kind of want to push them a little bit more."