At the Picnic Cafe in Dahlonega, owner Sam Norton greets breakfast customers and gets the pulse of this small north Georgia town. Lately, the buzz has been Wesley Wells, the young man from close by who has been kicking footballs for Georgia Tech with unerring accuracy.
“Many times, Wesley will have two or three current conversations going that he’s not aware of,” said Norton, who is also the mayor of Dahlonega. “His ears have to be burning.”
Dahlonega, the county seat of Lumpkin County, doesn’t lay claim to much in the way of sporting greatness. FBS-level football players have been few from a school that is stronger at wrestling and riflery. When he made the first of his 35 consecutive extra-point tries against Bowling Green on Sept. 29, Wells became the first former Lumpkin County High player to score at the FBS level, the Dahlonega Nugget reported in a recent story that made the front page.
“Wesley has been an anomaly, so to speak,” said Greg Finan, the Nugget reporter who has chronicled Wells’ exploits.
Tech fans have thrilled over the freshman walk-on’s ascension from third-stringer to clutch specialist, an unlikely answer to recent kicking-game woes. But it doesn’t compare with the response of this sleepy town in the North Georgia mountains, about 60 miles north of Atlanta up Ga. 400.
“There’s just a lot of pride in his little small town to see one of our local kids go off and make a big name for himself like that,” Norton said. “There’s a lot of pride in that. It may not seem like a big deal to a community that has a really strong and entrenched football program that produces a lot of star athletes, so when we do get a star like that, it sure shines bright.”
It has grown in brightness with each passing week. Wells took over placekicking duties against Bowling Green, making all nine point-after tries. He made his first field goal against Louisville a week later and then converted his first pressure kick against North Carolina on Nov. 3, a 22-yarder that iced the game with 46 seconds left.
Last Saturday’s win over Virginia was the topper (at least to this point): 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts, including a career-long 48-yarder to give the Yellow Jackets a 27-24 lead with 1:04 remaining in regulation and then the game-winning 40-yarder banked off the right upright in overtime. It earned him ACC specialist of the week honors. He is now 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts and 35-for-35 on extra points.
“It just looks like he’s having a good time,” said former Tech kicker David Scully, who in 2009 came to Tech as a walk-on from North Georgia (Dawson County) and earned his way onto the field. “I’m incredibly impressed.”
Back in Dahlonega, Wells may be conjuring a feat even more unlikely.
“I’m sure the Georgia Bulldogs have got the most (fans), but I think it’s turning really quickly into Yellow Jacket country,” Lumpkin County High coach Shane Williamson said.
No one is prouder than his parents, Eddie and Sherri Wells, who both were practically gushing in interviews with the AJC.
“He’s just an amazing son,” said Eddie, a business staff analyst for the Southern Company.
“I don’t even know where to start,” said Sherri, a retired schoolteacher. “It’s been fantastic.”
The Wells have stories to tell about his maturity (the day he turned 18, he took his birthday and graduation money and opened an investment account, his father said), his commitment to his diet (in the sixth grade, he took salmon and green beans for his school lunch every day, his mother said), and his diligence (“We didn’t have to tell him to do his homework or anything. He’s just been driven to accomplish things,” his father said).
The unflappable calm that their son has displayed this season – it’s the real deal. Sherri remembered when she and her only child were at an Easter event at their church, the Church of God of Prophecy. The sky turned green, she said, and hail and rain began to fall, chasing everyone inside for fear of a tornado.
“So we were all huddled down in the basement and then Wesley told me, he said, ‘Mom, I’m the only one under 13 not crying,’” she said.
He worked out frequently on a weight set in the garage. He earned good grades. And, influenced by a grandfather and stepgrandfather who were both Tech graduates, he dreamed of following them. So taken was Wells with Tech that, as a kindergartener, he made his mother a bracelet with gold and clear beads that she wears to this day.
It has been quite a ride for Wells and the community that supports him. The regular season finishes Saturday, in Athens against Georgia. Whatever happens, it has been a season worth celebrating – maybe with a parade on the town square?
Said the mayor, “We’re always looking for a reason.”
In 1829, Dahlonega was besieged by prospectors in a gold rush. Almost 200 years later, the town can lay claim to another prized discovery, this one wearing gold.
“My word is thankful,” Sherri Wells said. “I’m just thankful and amazed.”
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