FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Top 100 target has four visits in mind
- Weekend Unofficial Visitor Insider Recruiting Notebook
- Recruit Reaction: 'I thought it was a great win'
- Five Thoughts: Does Mullen have a quarterback controversy on his hands
- No. 13 Florida vs Florida Atlantic Game Thread
- UF-FAU Post Game Press Conference
- Inside the Gators: Mock Signing Class 5.0
- Former Florida Football Players Preseason Roundtable
- Freshmen Report: Predicting who plays
- Florida's Terrific 10 Targets
- One-on-One with Steve Spurrier (Audio added)
- Impact Analysis: Counting down the 10 Transfers
- The Inside Scoop: Trainer shares observations on nine Florida defensive linemen
- Where are they Now: Shane Matthews talks Florida Football
On Saturday night, in his sixth year with the program, Florida receiver Rick Wells scored his first career touchdown in the Gators’ season opener against FAU.
While the official box score shows that he only covered nine yards for the score, the truth is he traveled much further than that to get into the endzone on Saturday.
You see, Wells got off to an inauspicious start at Florida.
During his freshman year in 2016, he and fellow wideout Tyrie Cleveland were arrested and faced felony criminal mischief charges for shattering three windows at the Keys Residential Complex with a BB gun.
His mother Barbara Wells couldn’t believe it when she received the phone call.
She was so upset that she started hyperventilating.
“You think ‘Now, that can't be right,’” she said. “Because you talk about a child who went all 12 years in school and never had a referral, never got into any trouble… it was no reason to worry that he was going to go there (UF) and not excel.”
He redshirted that year but ended up in hot water again after the notorious credit card scandal saw him suspended for the 2017 season. To his mom, that behavior wasn’t what his parents expected of him.
After two years of not playing and two different incidents, most players would determine it was time for a change of scenery. But not Rick. He didn’t even consider transferring. Part of that was his mother in his ear telling him to stay the course. She told him he wasn’t playing because of the decisions he made, not because of the program.
A program that saw a new head coach come in for the 2018 season in Dan Mullen. A program that Rick didn’t exactly hop aboard the train for at the beginning.
“When I got here, early on I had questions whether he would make it,” Mullen said. “And then I said 'Hey, eventually you got to buy into the program.’”
He did. And to Rick, it’s all about being the absolute best he can be. By the time the wide receiver did buy in though, there were a plethora of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Thus, the playing time remained scarce.
But the Gators didn’t stop supporting him and providing encouragement.
“Coach (Billy) Gonzales always told him, ‘Rick, stay focused,’” Barbara said. That's the main thing. Coach Gonzales at that point was saying, ‘Just stay focused. And you're going to be all right, and your time is going to come. Stay focused, don't get discouraged.’”
And he didn’t.
In conversations with his mother, Rick spoke about how the only thing he can do is keep grinding, give his all, be there for his teammates and do what he can to help the team win.
That attitude provided such reassurance for Barbara too. Because while Rick wasn’t deterred, she felt discouraged at times.
“When you go to a game…and your child's standing by the coach the whole entire game and he doesn't get in, at this point, I'm 100 percent like, ‘Oh, no, this ain’t going to work. This is not going to work’ when you know your child’s capabilities as far as on the field,” Barbara said. “But yet again, those things that you do off the field determine whether you're going to get on the field sometimes.”
Barbara could tell a difference in Rick when he bought in though. He was more humble and less frustrated while maintaining the most positive attitude. Even when he saw his upset family after games, he kept his hopes up and told them “Maybe next game.”
He just kept plugging away. In 2018, he appeared in 10 games and had just one catch for six yards in the first game of the season. He recorded stats in just one of the nine games he played in for the 2019 season. Then he broke through in 2020.
He recorded at least one catch in five different games including six for 43 yards in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. He finished the year with 120 yards on 12 grabs. Now, as the supreme elder statesmen of the wide receiver room, Rick will get opportunities to show what he can do.
His first one came on that pass from Emory Jones against Florida Atlantic. He made the grab, turned up-field, and walked into the endzone for his first career touchdown.
Over those final few games in 2020, Barbara said Rick talked about just wanting to get into the endzone once. Just to have that feeling. As he scored, Barbara thought “Oh my God, he finally has a touchdown.”
“I was hoarse because I screamed for, I think, about 30 minutes,” Barbara said.
She said she saw him do a little high-step as he scored almost to say “I’m in here! I’m in the endzone!”
Rick’s parents got his attention after the game when he was still on the field just to see their son after one of the biggest accomplishments of his career.
“He finally came up in the stands and he gave me a hug and said ‘Mom, I got a touchdown,’” Barbara said. “And I said ‘You sure did. You did great.’ It was so wonderful. He had the smile on his face, and his eyes just said everything.”
All of that time he spent working hard and biding his time finally came to fruition. He comes from a family where loyalty is one of the biggest things preached. That’s what kept him committed to the Gators throughout all of those trials and tribulations.
“We got a saying in our family it’s called ‘We all we got. Loyalty over love,’” Rick said in availability this week. “That’s what I go by.”
“As far as just being loyal to what you have going on, that means you’re 100 percent you're buying into this,” Barbara said of the concept. "…you just don't cross the line as far as not being loyal where you don't go against your family, or your goals or keeping on track as to what you need to do.”
But even with that accomplishment, those off-field incidents will still be tied to him. His mother said they don’t define him but they won’t just go away either. Mark Long of the Associated Press made an inappropriate joke at the expense of Rick’s mistakes when he scored that touchdown against the Owls. Something Gator Nation didn’t appreciate all too well.
It took Rick Wells like 6 years to do something other than shoot a BB gun
— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) September 5, 2021
According to his mother, Rick doesn’t pay attention to the negative things said about him on the outside whether it’s from people on social media or those in the media.
And scoring that touchdown didn’t compare to Rick receiving his degree in May. The wideout said that was bigger. His mother agreed.
“It's so gratifying because that was the goal from day one was to leave with your degree,” Barbara said.” So, sometimes I had to let him know that degree is the focus. That's number one. And then is football.”
Barbara never imagined her son would be in college for six years when she sent him off in 2016. But, with the free eligibility due to COVID-19, this final year is an absolute blessing. If not for that, Rick would’ve been done. The 2020 season would’ve likely been the end of his football career.
There’s no guarantee that won’t be the case after this season. But, with the possibility of an expanded role, Rick has the opportunity to show what he can do.
And that’s good enough for him.