Mike Wells made his choice; he was going to be a Michigan Wolverine. He’d visited for a junior camp and liked what it had to offer. To make sure he was making the right choice, he decided to check out the Iowa Hawkeyes, who were also showing plenty of interest in the all-everything defensive lineman out of Missouri.
Wells accepted an invitation to attend an Iowa camp. After hearing about the visit, Michigan assistant Les Miles quickly got in touch with Wells to deliver some bad news.
“Because I took my Iowa trip, they told me they didn’t have a scholarship at Michigan,” Wells said. “So I’m like ‘OK, I’ll just go to Iowa.’
“I was leaning toward Iowa anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to switch. I went to the camp my junior year. I was very comfortable in Iowa City. I liked the campus, (assistant) coach (Kirk) Ferentz was the guy that recruited me and I loved him. I thought he was great. Dan McCarney was the defensive line coach and of course coach (Hayden) Fry.”
Wells attended Fox High School in Arnold, Missouri, where he was named a prep All-American by several publications, the USA Today all-sports Missouri athlete of the year, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch college prospect of the year following his 1998 senior season.
After red shirting in his first year on campus, he was in the rotation at nose guard during his second season with the program, splitting time with starter Rod Davis. Midway through the campaign, Davis missed a game, and Wells got his first career start in a 56-14 win against Northwestern.
“It just felt like ‘Hey, this is really fun. This is where I belong,’” he said, noting that during his red-shirt year, he was having trouble keeping up with the speed of the college game. “I was playing well, playing hard, and I realized that was at the level I was meant to compete at.”
During his time at Iowa, Wells racked up 33 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, and 309 career tackles. Those numbers helped him become a two-time, first-team, All-Big Ten selection in addition to being selected as the Roy J. Carver team MVP in each of his final two seasons on campus.
Wells was selected in the 4th round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. The organization was working on re-signing two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Thomas and viewed Wells as an insurance policy in case those negotiations didn’t work out.
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The Vikings’ long-term plan was to turn Wells into an offensive lineman. When Thomas signed a new deal, Minnesota attempted to move Wells through its developmental system. He didn’t clear waivers and was picked up by the Detroit Lions, who wanted him to play defensive line, his preferred position.
After four years with the Lions, including starting all 16 games in 1997, he signed as a free agent with Chicago. He started for three seasons with the Bears. He then landed in Indianapolis for one campaign before deciding to retire, primarily due to a shoulder injury slowing him down.
“I wasn’t the same guy I was at the Bears,” he said. “Once that injury kicked in, it was hard to compete when you’re going against the best in the world when you’re not at 100 percent.
“I ended up getting fired twice in one year. I figured that was it. I still had teams asking me to come to camp, but I figured ‘You know what? I’m not a football player anymore. I’ve got a bad shoulder, I’m not a football player anymore.’”
With his playing career over, Wells returned to Missouri with his wife Michele, a fellow Hawkeye alum, where he began as an assistant coach at Lindbergh High School in St Louis. The couple has two children, Megan and Logan. Logan is a defensive lineman at Lindbergh.
As Logan’s playing time and recruiting attention increased, Mike decided he wanted to be there every step of the way. He ended up leaving the football program and is now focusing on his house, his family and the future.
“I’m like Mister Mom, the dad of the house,” Mike joked. “I cook every day, I clean, I do the yard work, all that. My friends go to work and I’ll say ‘Man, at least you go to work and get a break. I have a honey-do list every day.’”
Near the mid-way point of his senior season, Logan is receiving a good amount of recruiting attention. He currently holds offers from Division II national champ Northwest Missouri State, as well as an FBS offer from Dayton.
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Logan also is in the running for an offer from Air Force. He camped there this summer on recommendation from Doug Laufenberg, one of Mike’s college teammates that he keeps in contact with. Doug’s son is a first-year lineman at Air Force.
During his time at Iowa, Mike said he learned plenty about football, about coaching, and about life as a whole.
“I learned a lot of great things about hard work, preparation, those things just stick with you forever, no matter what vocation you go into,” he said. “You have all these father figures, sometimes the corrupt older brother or corrupt uncle influence isn’t so bad either. You’ve got all kinds of personalities in sports.
“Their influence is lasting, no matter what you do. Everything I did as a coach wasn’t anything I made up, it was things people taught me and I just wanted to share that with younger kids.”
Even with a jam-packed schedule of cleaning and yard work, Mike still finds time to trek back to Iowa regularly, most recently in 2016 for Iowa’s historic win over the school he had planned on attending. The Hawkeyes knocked off previously unbeaten Michigan, 14-13, at Kinnick Stadium.