End of Aztec Career Might Bring New Beginning : If Kevin Wells Justifies the Attention He’s Getting, Job in NFL Should Be Next
The beginning of the end, which arrives Saturday, will also open a door to the future for San Diego State’s Kevin Wells.
Wells, an Associated Press All-American honorable mention center in 1987, will start his final year with the Aztecs much the same as he did his first. He will step out of the tunnel and onto the Rose Bowl turf to face UCLA.
Four years ago, after redshirting a season, Wells did the same thing. But he was a second-team center and didn’t play until the fourth quarter.
This year, Wells, 22, will be on the field from the start, commanding quite a bit of attention. The Aztecs are touting him as an All-American candidate. Coach Denny Stolz has called Wells “the best center I’ve ever coached.” And The Sporting News ranks Wells, 6-feet 5-inches and 265 pounds, as the second-best college center in the country, sandwiching him between Arizona’s Joe Tofflemire and Michigan’s John Vitale.
“He’s got all the tools he needs to be an above-average-to-outstanding center,” said Steve Devine, Aztec offensive line coach. “People will measure him by his senior season. His performance level will be very important.”
For Wells, who came to San Diego from Colorado’s Northglenn High School, it is a pivotal period in his life. It is a time of NFL scouts, a fiance and working toward an economics degree.
“I’m not a good planner,” Wells said. “I think that if you plan too far ahead, you get disappointed. But there are some major things ahead of me, and right now it’s looking good.”
With so much going on, it’s hard for Wells not to plan. The wedding is scheduled for Dec. 10. The degree awaits in May. And his play this fall will determine what he and Marilyn Ruggles, his future wife, will be doing at this time next year.
“The NFL has been a goal ever since I can remember,” Wells said. “I always wanted to get a chance.”
To that end, Wells will use a bit of self-induced deja vu Saturday. Over the summer, he went to San Diego psychologist Sharon Coghlan, who used hypnotism to improve his concentration. And since the opening of practice, Wells has been listening twice a day to a tape running him through a perfect UCLA game.
“It’s training your mind,” Wells said. “It empties out all of the negative thoughts and keeps positive thoughts. It’s like a neat storage cabinet. I can pull out the UCLA file, and the positive thoughts will be all my mind knows.”
The tape talks him through practices, the bus ride to Los Angeles, the night before the game, pregame and the game. Wells listens as he’s lying in bed mornings and evenings and intends to make a similar tape before each game this season.
“It’s weird,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning, I’m tired. But after listening to the tape, my muscles are tight, my adrenaline is pumping, and I’m jittery and ready to go.”
As a result, Wells expects a change in his outlook.
“I can remember seeing a nose guard before games in the past and thinking, ‘He’s big, and he looks really strong,’ ” he said. “That’s negative. It beats you before you ever start. Everything is positive now.”
As always, Wells worked hard physically this summer, too. Before lifting weights and running, he strapped on a 15-pound homemade lead vest, which he continues to wear during practices.
Complete fitness is important for a man that means so much to the Aztecs’ offense. When the huddle breaks, Wells first looks over the defense, checking out the alignment and where the defensive linemen are in relation to the offensive line. He has to think quickly, because he calls out some of the offense’s blocking schemes.
“It gets kind of confusing,” Wells said. “But I’ve done it for a while, to the point where it’s second nature.”
After that, there’s the snap count.
“Sometimes I lose track of that one,” Wells said. “I have to feel the quarterback--when he moves, I can tell he wants the snap. And I just try to snap before anyone else moves.”
Wells knows fundamentals will be the key to a successful season.
“My main concern now is just consistency,” he said. “Sometimes toward the end of a season, you get lax in fundamentals. I’ve got to keep them with me all the time. If you get beat, many times it’s because you’re not taking that extra step that really matters.”
Said Devine: “In your senior season, you should be the best you’ve ever been fundamentally. There’s nothing fancy about being an offensive lineman. From your freshman to your senior year, there should be a tremendous difference in the way you execute the fundamentals.”
There’s not as much glory in the fundamentals, though, as there is in the spectacular. That’s why the perks of stardom are different depending on the position. Quarterbacks are easily recognized. Offensive linemen usually wallow in obscurity.
Wells is considered one of the best in the country, but you’d never know it. In the SDSU sports information office, newspaper clippings are filed for each player. Wells’ folder is empty. Even a friendly, unassuming, All-American candidate doesn’t get much attention if he’s an offensive lineman.
“I don’t mind,” Wells said. “If I played quarterback first and then offensive line, it might be hard to adjust, but it’s all right not having to deal with all of the publicity.