An Interview with Former Ohio State Great Jonathan Wells

By Michael Citro on August 21, 2014 at 1:10p
Jonathan Wells, like many Ohio State greats, got loose against Michigan.

Before Beanie Wells, there was another leading Ohio State rusher named Wells who wore No. 28 in the Buckeye backfield—Jonathan.

A native of River Ridge, Louisiana, in the New Orleans area, Jonathan Wells helped John Curtis Christian High School win three consecutive class 4A state championships. A big, bruising back, Wells drew interest early from many schools and chose to play his collegiate football at Ohio State.

From 1998 to 2001, Wells played under John Cooper, arriving on campus as a backup to the likes of Michael Wiley and Joe Montgomery in a crowded and talented backfield. In his four seasons, he racked up 2,381 yards and 27 touchdowns on 479 carries.

Wells saved his best season for last, rushing for 1,294 yards and 16 scores his senior year of 2001. You remember it as Jim Tressel's first team—the one that kept the promise and beat Michigan on the road, snapping a six-game losing streak to That Team Up North that dated back to 1987.

He is currently ranked 16th on the school’s all-time rushing list, but his 5.0 average yards per carry are better than several players higher up the list, including Pepe Pearson, Raymont Harris, Carlos Snow and Jim Otis.

After the 2001 season, the expansion Houston Texans selected Wells with their fourth round pick (99th overall) in the 2002 NFL Draft. He played four seasons in Houston, leading the Texans in rushing his rookie season.

Wells started 18 games over his four years with Houston, carrying 374 times for 1,167 yards and 10 touchdowns behind a historically bad offensive line.

He also caught 44 passes for 323 yards and two scores.

I spoke with the former Buckeye tailback standout and he graciously and enthusiastically answered my questions. Enjoy!

What have you been up to since you finished playing football?

Jonathan Wells: I’ve been working on record labels since then.  Originally I started a label called From the Ground Up and now it’s called You World Global Media. We did a deal with Capitol Records recently and it’s going well. I have a variety of artists—obviously we’ve got rappers, and some pop artists and I even have a 13-year-old pop artist.

Wells as an expansion Texan.
Wells and David Carr were Houston's offense in 2002.

How does a kid from New Orleans end up as an Ohio State Buckeye in 1998?

JW: Honestly I think it was God, destiny. I didn’t know anything about Ohio State until I saw Eddie George play in 1995. It was a very easy decision to go to Ohio State and follow a great player like Eddie George. I was a big kid too, and a lot of schools recruited me as a linebacker or full back. Ohio State was the first school to send me a letter my junior year. I kind of knew that’s where I was going.

What was your life like in the New Orleans area?

JW: My childhood was interesting. It was rough. I had a brother who committed suicide when he was 12 and I was seven. We had some horrible years there dealing with that incident. But I was lucky. Both my parents were there for me and they were very supportive of me in anything I did. It was OK. I grew up in the murder capital of the world; New Orleans, with a lot of violence. What probably saved my life and sent me in another direction was going to high school at John Curtis Christian School. I was able to go on and graduate and play at Ohio State.

Who was responsible for recruiting you to the Buckeyes?

JW: Coach Tim Spencer (running backs) and (former quarterbacks coach) Tim Salem were the two main guys. Coach Cooper came down toward the end. Coach Spencer really sold me on the program and I had a lot of respect for him. He was an Ohio State great. If I was going to learn from anybody, why wouldn’t I go up there with a great like that? It was a no brainer.

What were your first impressions of Ohio State?

JW: I came up a little early to start working out with the team in the summer my freshman year. (Strength) Coach Dave Kennedy had us running quarters, 400s. I was nowhere near running that distance. He broke my back and let me know if I didn’t get it together real quick, I was going to take myself back to new Orleans.

Who did you room with and who were some of the guys you hung out with on the team?

JW: I came in and roomed with Derek Ross my freshman year. We had a bunch of great guys around—Jamar Martin, Cie Grant, Nate Clements, LeCharles Bentley—I was cool with all the guys. We had some great veterans who took us under their wing, like Dee Miller and David Boston. Michael Wiley was a great mentor for me.

Do you still talk to some of those guys? Or other former Buckeyes?

JW: I’ve been up in Columbus getting with a lot of the guys, Maurice Clarett, recently. Mike Wiley and I; we do a lot of autographs together…Pete Johnson. A bunch of guys.

Wells is still a die hard Buckeye.
"Nobody loves Ohio State more than me." - Wells

What moments of your OSU career stand out for you?

JW: Everybody likes to talk about the Michigan game because I had a great first half my senior year and other than that, it ended up being the game that broke the curse of beating Michigan at Michigan. I like to look back at the Northwestern game my senior year. That was a breaking point for me, as far as making some long runs. I took one 72 yards to the house and it was the first night game that year. That jump started my senior year, and gave me a chance to play in the NFL.

What was it like being a part of the Houston Texans—a new NFL team at the time?

JW: It was great being part of a brand new franchise, and being the first leading rusher in franchise history. Me and David Carr, we were kind of thrown to the wolves though. We had some offensive line issues, breaking the league record for sacks allowed by like 30 sacks. it was tough, but we got through it and from there it was a roller coaster ride—starting here, backup there. But I worked hard on special teams and was captain three years. I gave it my all and did whatever was needed to try to win games.  I played in the NFL four years and it was a blessing.

What prompted your football exit and the start of your career in entertainment?

JW: I never like to blame anything on injuries, but my last workout for Seattle I blew out my calf muscle. I had a lot of frustration with Houston for playing time and with my free agency was frustrating and it had a snowball effect. Once I got injured, I got into something else that I loved and put my passion into that.

Do you get back to Columbus for many games?

JW: I normally make one or two games a year. This year I’ll make more because I’ve been down here in Atlanta but I’ll be spending more time in Ohio.

Are you still a passionate Buckeye and follow the team?

JW: Absolutely, I don’t miss a game. I don’t care what part of the country I’m in, I’ve got to find the game. I’m the first player from Louisiana to play for Ohio State and we take football very seriously. I’m a die hard. I still bleed it ‘til I die. Nobody loves Ohio State more than me.

What do you think will happen with the upcoming season in the wake of the Braxton Miller injury?

JW: It’s a part of the game. Star players get hurt all the time. I feel bad for Braxton and what he’s going through but you’ve got to have that ‘next man up’ mentality. These younger guys got their opportunity, although it may not be the way they wanted it. It’s time to step up and make a name for themselves. I expect them to do that. They’ve been there a few years with Urban Meyer and they should be right up to speed.

Since you’re still following the Buckeyes, who are some of the players who have impressed you since your days in Columbus?

JW: Troy Smith was obviously one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State history. I loved watching him. I love my little bro Beanie Wells. There’s a lot of players—Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Hawk—I keep up with them all. I don’t really watch NFL games unless they have Ohio State players I know, but I watch the Buckeyes.


Comments Show All Comments

11UrbzAndSpices's picture

From his Wiki, made me laugh:

Professional Football Career/Fantasy Football Relevance

As the reserve running back for the Houston Texans in 2005, Wells was thrust into the fantasy football spotlight when starting running back Domanick Williams was injured, giving Wells the start in a Week 15 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Wells delivered with an 87 yard, 2 touchdown performance, propelling fantasy football teams who started Wells to stunning victories and sending owners of opposing teams into table-pounding rages. Following this performance, Wells immediately faded back into fantasy football obscurity.

"Quit skipping leg day bro" - Dr James Andrews

+4 HS
MauricXe's picture

great interview. it's amazing that he was the first LA player on an Ohio State roster.

+2 HS
J.Mo's picture

Outside of him and Nader Abduhardlastnametospell, has any other Buckeye come from LA?

+2 HS
Jason Priestas's picture

Those are the only two scholarship players from Louisiana in the last 33 years at least.

BTwrestle04's picture

Abdallah. You ended up typing more characters than his actual name... And it's not that difficult to spell.

+1 HS
BuckeyeVet's picture

Funny, though.....

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx

"The recipient of Oyster's ONLY down vote".

xenocide78's picture

Mo...if this is you (and I suspect it is). Get off my page bro!

J.Mo's picture

Love Krenzel in the background of that picture.

Glad to hear from Jonathan Wells. What a game he had in Ann Arbor!

+2 HS
BuckeyeChief's picture

@Jonathon Wells if you are reading this:

Thanks for a hell of a game vs. scUM. My daughter had just turned 1, and my wife went out shopping leaving the 2 of us at home. I parked her walker next to me so she could watch her first version of "The Game". We ate so many snacks (me: wings, her: Gerber Wagon Wheels) that we couldn't eat dinner...I had a blast and you guys finally broke through, and she saw her first W vs scUM. (I may be a little crazy, as I woke her up as the final seconds ticked off the clock vs Miami so she could see us win a National Title the next season)...she is almost 14, and she still brings up that time vs awesome memory, thanks!

"2014 National with it!!!"

+11 HS
Hovenaut's picture

That's a great story Chief - put a smile on my face just like #28 did back in 2001.

+6 HS
BuckeyeChief's picture

Thank you...I had some dust in my eye as I typed.

"2014 National with it!!!"

+2 HS
BuckeyeTerry's picture

I was at the World's largest toilet bowl that day and I will never forget sitting there laughing my ass off as JW took off for his long td run. You could have heard a pin drop in my section if I would not have been screaming at the top of my voice for all the scum fans to suck it! A beautiful day in indeed. I will never forget it!


+3 HS
Poison nuts's picture

Great read. You'd like to believe that every former OSU player is a die-hard to this day, but that is probably not always the case. Johnathon is & it was good to hear how passionate he is about The Buckeyes to this day.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

saluki2007's picture

I would totally not be disappointed if we had something like this every Thursday.

+5 HS
J.Mo's picture

I thought this was once a thing. I would like interviews with former Buckeyes from 5+ years ago. Any chance Nate Salley can be next up?

+2 HS
saluki2007's picture

Not sure if it was or not.  I found this site beginning of last season (don't recall any articles like this last year) and lurked and just signed up for an account this year.

Michael Citro's picture

I need to bundle the Q&A features so there's one landing page where they're all gathered (like our 2014 Season Preview has). We've done quite a few Q&As this summer, including Joe Germaine, Robert Smith, Dennis Hopson, Scottie Graham and Doug Donley. 

Look for another with a former Buckeye quarterback soon.

Would love to do one on Nate Salley. Who and when these run is pretty dependent upon who I can reach, who agrees to do them, and when we can arrange the interview. I have dozens of requests out. Some respond quickly, others take a few weeks. Most of these guys go hard at whatever they do in life, so they're very busy.

The offensive players seem to be easier to get a hold of than defenders so far. :) I'll try to do more hoops-related ones after football season.

BuckeyeChief's picture

Mike Doss would be the cat's pajamas.

"2014 National with it!!!"

TURD_BUCKET's picture

Love the interviews, keep 'em comin!

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” John Wooden

+5 HS
Matt's picture

My first game ever at Ohio Stadium was the Northwestern game in 2001, when I was a frosh, when I had only a casual interest in college football.  Then Wells hit the hole and went for 72 yards and the entire stadium exploded; I've been hooked ever since.

+2 HS
Crumb's picture

I still remember him destroying ttun in 2001. Good times.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
Smanpoint10's picture

#28 was my first and only jersey cause of Wells! I wore that thing like a dress proudly cause I was 6 and it was an adult small

+1 HS
Hockey Buck's picture

Always a Buckeye. Excellent job of keeping us all plugged in.

gravey's picture

Love the interview!  Thanks for being a great Buckeye!  That '01 game in AA is one of my all time favorites.  It's cool how J Wells keeps that Buckeye love in his heart.  He'll always be welcome back in Cbus.  It's a pity that some of the local players pass on that special bond with their home team - and here comes a guy from 1000 miles away who "got it".  

Habu71's picture

Great interview, great back, great memories. 

KINGxBUCK's picture

“indomitable in victory, insufferable in defeat.”

gumtape's picture

Wells was a guy who always worked hard, paid his dues, tough and strong. The best part about him was that he got better each year, then beat m*chigan.

That was a long time ago though, illinois was actually good.

High and tight boo boo

D56GoBucks's picture

That '01 game was my first ever trip to Ann Arbor. I was 10. I'll never be able to forget that 4th down run. Mike Doss' pick that he almost scored on also stands out. Side note: for anyone who went to that game, and can recall it fondly, do you remember the Woody and Bo bobble heads they were selling? My dad bought the Woody one from the M Den. About 8 years ago I was in a cardboard heroes and that exact bobblehead was in a case, selling for 200. Asked a guy working there why that particular bobblehead was worth so much, he actually offered to give me 200 I'm store credit if I would give it to them. Needless to say I didn't...

"Anything easy ain't worth a damn"

+1 HS
45buckshot's picture

I second all the comments thanking you for these interviews; they are awesome. I love to hear how players are doing and making good. 

I was working at Cornell U when Wells broke off that 72 yard run against NW and make all my coworkers watch it. NW was supposed to have a good team that year, and I think an Autry? running the ball; NW was touting him as a Heisman candidate. He fumbled a bunch of times and collapsed; Wells totally dominated instead. They crowded the line trying to stop the run and Wells was through before they knew what hit them; a night game the crowd exploded. He had a monster senior year; I don't think he gets enough love; his tOSU legend should be bigger. 

Thanks again for the interview and best of luck to Mr. Wells and his music company. 

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton