By Dan Hiner
Last season, the Youngstown State University football team was trying to deal with the loss of quarterbacks Kurt Hess [graduation] and Dante Nania [injury]. Leaving the door wide open for a young quarterback to take over.
Hunter Wells, at the time a freshman, received his first start on week three against Butler University. The 6-foot-5-inch quarterback finished 16-22 with 297 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Nania returned the following week to play against St. Francis University, but Wells’ performance was too much to overlook. Wells took over the quarterback responsibilities in YSU’s sixth game. Nania was 2-2 with nine passing yards in the first half. Wells took over the second half — finishing 14-25 for 187 yards and one touchdown.
Wells took over the starting quarterback job in week seven of the season. Since then, the young signal caller has become the centerpiece of the offense and the key to the offensive success of the team this season.
Wells went on to play in 10 games last season, and threw for 1,772 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. He finished second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Freshman-of-the-Year voting and finished seventh in the Jerry Rice Award, which honors the Football Bowl Subdivision’s top freshman.
Wells has seen a progression in this year’s offense. The team has lost a few starters on the offensive side, but Wells thinks offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery has made changes to the offense to better fit the new talent on the roster.
“When Dante was there, the offense was a little different because he was a running quarterback and in a different style than him,” Wells said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s about the same. We made a couple twists and a couple tweaks, but I feel like you have to make that kind of stuff every time you enter a new season. There’s always new stuff and new players you have to adjust for. The offense is coming along. We have a lot of work to do. We need to focus on the little things and get better.”
Backup running back Jody Webb said Wells has progressed as a vocal leader entering his sophomore season.
“When you first come into a place, you don’t know if you should let other people speak, or if you can speak up for the team, but I’ve definitely seen him take charge and that’s what we need out of him,” Webb said. “He’s the quarterback and we’re ready to get behind him.”
Webb said Wells is very critical of himself, which was one of the reasons Wells had become one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season.
“Hunter is very hard on himself,” Webb said. “As the field general on offense, we have to be able to trust in you, and if a mistake is made you are going to be able to pick it up and we’re going to get the next play. I’ve definitely seen a sense of maturity in Hunter. He’s grown a lot mentally and that’s what we like to see — he’s definitely pushing everyone. That’s the best part about it … we’re all following him.”