Georgia Tech kicker Wesley Wells never had to attempt a game-winning field goal at Lumpkin County High.
But he has some experience with pressure kicks. Wells said he and the other Yellow Jackets kickers like to make things interesting in practice by making wagers. Not for money, mind you.
“One time, Shawn Davis, the other kicker, had to (direct message) this girl, but I got to type it,” Wells said.
Saturday’s prize was a little bigger. Wells was 4-for-4 for the Jackets, with two makes from 28 yards, one from a career-long 48 yards with 1:04 to play in regulation and then what proved to be the game-winner from 40 yards in overtime in the 30-27 win over Virginia Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
You have to work to earn coach Paul Johnson’s praise, and Wells’ pressure kicks earned an appraisal of “pretty special” from the coach.
“He did a great job,” Johnson said.
It was without question one of the top placekicking games in Johnson’s tenure. Wells’ 4-for-4 performance was just the third in Johnson’s 11 seasons, following Scott Blair’s 4-for-4 against Clemson in the 2009 ACC championship game and Harrison Butker’s 4-for-4 against Kentucky in his final game, the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl.
The biggest kick in Johnson’s tenure, and close to the top in Tech history, remains Butker’s 53-yarder to force overtime against Georgia in 2014. But Wells’ two pressure makes puts his game among Butker’s better games, notably a 3-for-3 game against Florida State in 2015 (including a 53-yard try) and the bowl game win over Kentucky.
“You’ve got to love having a freshman like that on your team,” said Brad Stewart, Wells’ holder.
Wells, a freshman walk-on, was actually the third kicker that Johnson has used at placekicker this season. Johnson began with Davis, moved on quickly to Brenton King and then opened the job up after the Clemson game. Wells won it in practice that week and all he has done is not miss, ever. He’s 35-for-35 on point-after tries and 8-for-8 on field goals, half of them made Saturday.
“I just try to prepare enough in practice to where I don’t get nervous in games,” Wells said.
Wells was true from 48 on a kick that put the Jackets up 27-24 with 1:04 left in regulation, causing Wells to sprint across the field with his arms raised. It was his career long by seven yards and, actually, Jack Coco snapped the ball just as the play clock expired. He showed the unflappability that Johnson has come to quite appreciate.
“The moment’s not too big for him,” Johnson said. “We have guys still yet that have played a lot where I think sometimes the moment’s a little too big for them, but with him it’s not.”
Wells was called upon again on Tech’s possession in overtime, when the Jackets only gained two yards on their first three plays. Out of Stewart’s hold, Wells didn’t get all of the ball, but enough. The ball pushed to the right, bouncing off the right upright and ricocheting through. Wells helped the ball through with some body English.
Wells said that it wasn’t a solid strike. (The play clock was in the final seconds on that kick also.)
“I tried to make it the same as every other kick, but sometimes, the nerves do get to you a little bit,” Wells said. “It just hit off my foot a little weird. I looked up, it was a little to the right. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I saw it hit the post and went in. That was a great feeling.”
Not just for him.
“That’s what’s special about him,” Stewart said. “He doesn’t think too much. He just does what he has to do … he doesn’t think about it. He just goes out there and kicks it like it’s another day. I love him and he’s going to have a good four years here.”
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