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Article updated: 2/6/2014 9:41 PM

And now, full speed ahead for Grant's Wells at Illinois

Grant’s Jonathan Wells, the defending Class 3A state champ in the high jump, will compete for the University of Illinois.

Grant's Jonathan Wells, the defending Class 3A state champ in the high jump, will compete for the University of Illinois.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Grantís Lindsey Lewis will run both cross country and track at Illinois State University.

Grant's Lindsey Lewis will run both cross country and track at Illinois State University.

 

JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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Even in a family full of fabulously fast guys -- and one smart lady, too -- there is a time to downshift.

To. Slow. Down.

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Jonathan Wells' athletic future was at stake, after all.

One of Lake County's best running backs as a sophomore and junior, Wells, whose latter season was cut short due to injury, had a difficult decision to make heading into his senior year.

It wouldn't be a fast call for the Grant athlete.

A football star was about to retire his helmet and pads to save his 6-foot-3, 190-pound body, focus on track and field, and secure a scholarship.

"After I got my injury, my family and I sat down and had a talk about what I wanted to pursue (in college), football or track," Wells said. "Track was the one I wanted to pursue and my family wanted me to pursue. I think it's a good decision."

As Wells sat in Grant's lecture hall Wednesday, who could argue with his choice? With family, teammates and classmates watching, the reigning Class 3A state high jump champion, who helped the Bulldogs tie for fourth at state last May, signed a national letter of intent to compete track and field with the University of Illinois.

It was a jump-for-joy moment for an athlete whose tangibles leap off the page.

The Illini coaches and U of I education convinced Wells to accept the scholarship offer. He boasts a 4.6 GPA (4.0 scale).

"Just the overall aspect of it is pretty good," said Wells, who took official visits to Illinois State, Wisconsin and Illinois. "I was talking to a lot of Big Ten colleges, a couple of other D-I colleges and a couple of colleges down south. I wanted to stay close to home."

Like any mother, Frances Wells was concerned about her son's safety playing football. When Wells' teammate Christian Gomoll was nearly paralyzed on a freak play last fall, it jolted the mother of three boys. Ultimately, however, she let Jonathan make his own choice.

"It was his decision (to pursue track)," she said.

"It was a tough decision," Wells said. "But I just had to sit back and stick with my decision."

Surrounding the Illini's newest track recruit Wednesday were Frances, Jonathan's dad, Sean Sr., and Jonathan's little brother, Octavian. Sean Jr., who graduated from Grant in 2012, enjoyed a phenomenal freshman track season at Division-II power Grand Valley State, setting the school record in the 110-meter high hurdles and qualifying for nationals.

As a Grant freshman last year, Octavian burst onto the scene with a burst off starting blocks. He won the 200 meters in the Huntley sectional and sprinted on the Bulldogs' state-qualifying 400 relay.

Sean Sr. was a high jumper in high school.

"My mom was the smart one. My dad was the jock," Jonathan, who placed fifth in the high jump at state as a sophomore, said with a smile. "I get my intelligence from my mom.

"My brothers are both fast," he added. "I'm the one that can jump."

By Grant track coach Tom Evans' count, the three Wells boys own 23 school records. Evans, whose Bulldogs won the North Suburban Conference championship last season, lauds how dedicated Jonathan and Octavian are to "getting better and contributing toward team success."

All's well with Wells.

During the 2012 football season, however, all was not well for Jonathan. Playing against North Chicago in Week 6, Wells dived into the end zone, scoring a touchdown but tearing his labrum and fracturing the top of his humerus. He continued playing and finished the game.

That's the kind of tough athlete Illinois is getting.

"It was a collision, shoulder to shoulder," Wells said.

His season was over after having rushed for 756 yards (nearly 7 yards per carry) and 9 touchdowns. That's the kind of tough year it was for coach Kurt Rous' Bulldogs, who also lost quarterback Kyle Whitman to a torn ACL. Grant lost in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

"We would have went pretty far with our team, but a lot of guys got hurt," said Wells, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a sophomore. "We had like four ACL tears, a femur, two labrums. It was an unfortunate year."

Once a certain college football prospect, Wells was done with a sport had he played since he was a kid.

"Iowa came down a couple of times," Wells said. "But I didn't really pursue any more D-I (football) colleges because I kind of cut off (the recruiting) during the summer. (The football coaches) all knew I was doing track."

At Illinois, Wells, who also qualified for state in the 110 hurdles last spring, says he'll be a decathlete.

"Never boring," he said, smiling.

For the speedy athlete, slowing down won't be an option.

Lewis on the run ... to ISU: Grant also celebrated Wednesday senior Lindsey Lewis' commitment to run cross country and track at Illinois State University, where the 5-foot-4 distance runner will be a walk-on.

Lewis sported a walking boot on her right foot after an MRI two weeks ago revealed a stress fracture.

"It should be healed in 3-5 weeks," Lewis said. "I'm going to miss some of the indoor season, but once outdoors come, I'll be good."

Come fall, she'll be ready to be a Redbird.

"I visited quite a few colleges, and I was in contact with a lot of coaches," Lewis said. "After my visits, I just knew Illinois State was the place I wanted to go. I felt wanted by the coaches there, and I really trust them to make me the best I'll end up being."

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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