KIICHIRO SATO / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells ended his days with the Buckeyes injured, and sitting out most of the fourth quarter of Monday's Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas, his face plastered with frustration as he gnawed away at his mouth guard.
The last play of Wells' Ohio State career came a few moments earlier - a nondescript two-yard gain to the Texas 26-yard line. Wells, who announced yesterday that he will pass up his senior season with the Buckeyes to enter the NFL Draft, won't be remembered for that short run.
A rare blend of speed and power who was further enhanced by a jousting lance of a stiff arm, Wells launched his legend three years ago as a freshman with a 52-yard explosion for a touchdown against Michigan in that No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown won 42-39 by the top-ranked Buckeyes.
"That was Beanie at his best, Beanie just being Beanie," Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Boone said in the days preceding the most recent bowl game. "He got through the line, got a little daylight, and he was gone."
Wells was held out of the decisive final moments of the Fiesta Bowl after suffering a concussion. During his three years with the Buckeyes, he was also hampered by injuries to his wrist, hamstring, ankle and foot, with the latter costing him three games this season. Wells, who entered 2008 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy, said in a statement released yesterday that he labored over giving up his final year at Ohio State.
"This has been a difficult decision, but in the best interest of my family, I have decided to enter my name into the draft," Wells said. "I definitely want to thank the Buckeye fans for all their support. Ohio State has become like a family to me, and it will always be that way."
Wells further endeared himself to Buckeyes fans by pounding Michigan for a single-game record 222 yards in the 2007 meeting of the Big Ten rivals, carrying the ball 39 times.
"It was rainy and kind of sloppy that day," Boone recalled prior to the 2008 season, "but Beanie didn't seem affected by it at all. We just saddled him up and rode him. He was just outstanding. He was the difference in the game."
Wells had 134 yards in this season's rout of the Wolverines, including a 59-yard blast for the game's first touchdown.
"Ohio State football will miss Beanie's big runs, but we will also miss his big smile," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said yesterday in a statement.
"He has been a tremendous teammate and one of the all-time great performers in the greatest rivalry in college football. He will always be an ambassador for Ohio State, and all of us wish him well."
Ohio State icon and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, speaking before the start of the 2008 season, put Wells on a very lofty pedestal.
"Chris Wells is the closest thing to Jim Brown I've seen," Griffin said, referring to the former star at Syracuse and NFL Hall of Famer with the Cleveland Browns, who is generally recognized as the best running back ever. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, Wells presents an ominous specter very similar to Brown's 6-2 and swift 230 pounds.
"I say he really reminds me of Jim Brown because of his size and strength," Griffin said. "And the way he brushes people off of him. People can hit him and they just fall off of him. When he gets out in the open, he seems able to run away from people. Jim Brown was my hero, and you'll probably think I'm crazy, but when I watch Chris Wells run, that's what comes to mind."
Wells finished this season with 1,197 yards, and his career total of 3,382 yards ranks fourth-best in Ohio State history. Wells, who comes from a family of 11 children, said both before and after the Fiesta Bowl that he would take some time to look at his options before making his decision, but Tressel had stated several times that he thought Wells was ready for the pros.
''In my opinion, he ought to be one of the first five guys picked,'' Tressel said.
If that is the case, after the NFL conducts its 2009 draft on April 25 and 26 in New York City, Wells will reap millions in both his playing contract and signing bonus.
"There are a lot of things I know I will miss: just being in the locker room, spending time with my teammates, playing in the Michigan game, just all the aspects of being at Ohio State that make it such a special place. But in the best interest of my family, it's time to move on and take a chance at fulfilling my lifetime dream of playing in the NFL," Wells said. "I will always appreciate everything Ohio State has done in helping me grow up and become a man, and I will always be a Buckeye."
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