Waiting and biding his time, Florida Gators receiver Rick Wells has shown a dedication to Florida football that many haven't or couldn't.
Wells originally committed to the Gators under former head coach Will Muschamp in 2015, while ultimately joining the program under former coach Jim McElwain in 2016. He's caught passes from the likes of Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby, and now from Emory Jones, the team's starting quarterback in 2021.
The path to get to this point in his career hasn't come without a lot of setbacks. After redshirting his freshman season in 2016, Wells was suspended for a full season in 2017 due to various off-the-field issues.
He's had to do plenty of sour searching to figure out how to get himself out of the rut he was in, and Saturday's game was sort of the fruits of his labor, while still having plenty of room to grow.
“The journey has been a lot of ups and downs and just seeing so many guys do it the right way, seeing so many guys do it the wrong way," Wells told reporters on Monday via Zoom.
"Just picking up on things trying to put it into my life and trying to be the best person I can be. It’s been a long road, but I feel like it’s been a great one. A lot of learned lessons to better myself as a person and a player.”
On Saturday, in Florida's 35-14 victory over Florida Atlantic Wells led the Gators in receiving with five receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. While that doesn't seem impressive, consider that Well's previous high for a season was 12 receptions for 120 yards.
That occurred in 2020, and before that season he had a total of three receptions for 33 yards in his career. On Saturday, Wells had one thing in mind when he was working his way into the end zone: run.
“Just run. Just run man. Just run. That was the only thing in my head, just run,” Wells said with a smile.
Florida Gators vs. Florida Atlantic Owls 2021
While the touchdown was special for Wells, he still felt like graduating, walking across the stage in May was that much better. The work he's put in to get to where he's at has transcended the gridiron.
"I saw a change that I had to make in myself just to try to get where I want to be, not just with football, but just being who I want to be and the impact that I have on people," said Wells. "I mean, that was the change that I was really looking for. Just the impact that I have on people and the way that they see me was the biggest thing for me.”
After not being a factor in games at Florida for several years, Wells could have opted to transfer, especially with the relatively new transfer portal system. None of that was on the table for the veteran receiver, however, and staying with Florida was the only option he wanted to pursue.
“I mean everything I’ve been through, transferring never came through my mind. The way I grew up, I grew up on loyalty," said Wells. "They’ve been loyal to me so I’m loyal to Gator Nation. So why not stick with them? Transferring was never an idea of mine.”
Wells says that loyalty runs through his family, something they preach. "Loyalty over love," a phrase that he got from one of his cousins is something he lives by.
On Saturday, Mullen spoke about Wells and the mission he gave him to buy into the program, that conversation appears to have been a success as Mullen has seen the hard work Wells has put in over the years. Buying into the program was doing everything right, Wells added.
"Give great effort bring great energy, think positive all the time. That’s my take on that. Just be the best version of yourself.”
It hasn't just been Wells that has limited his ability to see the field over the years. In front of him over the past few seasons alone have been multiple NFL-caliber receivers such as Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney, Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes.
Of course, in the slot position alone, Wells typically worked behind players such as Toney and Hammond, two players that held down their respective positions for years. Instead of sulking, Wells decided that the best opportunity for him would be to simply learn from them.
"Learn everything that they’re doing just to put it towards my game. Learn from KT, learn from Josh Hammond, one of the smartest guys I ever been around. Just learning, man. And putting things into your life and trying to do things the best way that you can.”
While Wells had some success on Saturday, it doesn't mean the entire season will turn out that way, nor that he will become the star receiver Florida once thought he'd be when recruited all those years ago. But, his journey is worth noticing and will be something to watch moving forward during his final season at Florida.
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