October 2, 2009 7:43:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
The "thug" life was the life for Jeremy Wells.
As a freshman at New Hope High School, trouble found Wells much too often.
Without his brother, Jonquez, a running back on the New Hope High football team, around to help look after him, Jeremy admitted to falling in with the wrong group.
It wasn''t until his sophomore year when Wells discovered he was academically ineligible to play football that he realized he needed to change.
"I started noticing I didn''t get along with the people I was hanging around with, we really weren''t friends, or they went to jail, were shooting somebody, or were getting shot," Wells said. "I couldn''t live like that. People have been telling me ever since I was young if I go anywhere it is going to because of sports and my ability. I had to find out that for myself."
Two years later, Wells and classmate Raymond Walters are two senior members of a New Hope High football program that is developing family ties and having success on the field.
New Hope will try to build on its 4-0 start at 7 tonight when it plays host to West Point (4-1) in a Class 5A, Region 1, District 2 game at Trojan Field.
Wells, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound strong safety/cornerback, has played a key role in helping New Hope High transition from Class 4A to Class 5A this season.
He almost didn''t give himself a chance to be a contributor, or a member of a "family" that had his best interests at heart.
Wells said he changed from a teenager who used to get into a lot of trouble to one who is more focused and mature.
"I probably would be in trouble right now if you were talking to the old Jeremy Wells," Wells said. "I probably wouldn''t be on the football team right now. I would either be somewhere hanging around with one of my friends or at home being nothing.
"Now I know how to look at things different. I can look and see that''s not a really good thing to do, or I can tell my friends to stop doing that or, ''You need to chill.'' The old Jeremy Wells would have went right along with it and not thought about it."
Wells said the absence of his brother, who is a member of the William Penn (Iowa) football team contributed to his falling in with the wrong crowd. He said it wasn''t until two of his friends went to jail that he realized he didn''t want to be in their position.
"I didn''t want to get to the level where I had to go to jail to find out I was doing wrong and I had to change because by that time it would be too late," Wells said. "If I didn''t realize that, I probably would be in jail right now. If it wasn''t for coach Bradley and the rest of the coaches, there is no telling what I would be. I probably would be kicked out of the house."
Walters said didn''t think football was for him. He said boys basketball at New Hope High was booming and he was more focused on that sport.
Although the school''s boys basketball team went on to win a state championship in 2007, Walters came to realize he had more talent as a football player. He said it was satisfying to return to a sport that he grew up playing the backyard.
Unfortunately, Walters was injured most of his junior season. He was injured in the first game of the season. He returned to the field and then suffered a knee injury in the sixth game of the year that ended his season.
This year, the 5-11, 215-pound Walters is playing a key role at running back and at linebacker. He agreed with Wells that the football program has developed into a family that is focused on building a tradition. The program took a first step toward doing that last season by finishing 8-5 and advancing to the third round of the Class 4A North Half playoffs.
This season, New Hope is off to its best start since the program started the 1991 season 4-0. That New Hope team lost its fifth game to Aberdeen 28-6 on Oct. 4, 1991.
Walters and Wells will try to do their part tonight to make sure this year''s New Hope team can extend its winning streak."I remember my ninth grade year we came in 1-9," Walters said. "We weren''t really a family. We were a bunch of ''I'' players. As time went on, we started to realize that if we played together and came together as a family we can get a lot more accomplished.
"We grew as a family and went 8-5 (last year). This year, we are 4-0 and we are still a big family. We have come a long way. We got in the weight room the whole summer and were running sprints in 100-degree weather. Coach told us from the first day this summer that we had a chance to win, so we have to work like winners."
Bradley said he is proud of Wells, Walters, and all of his players. He said he and his assistant coaches give players choices and explain the consequences of those decisions. He said Wells and Walters made choices earlier in their high school careers that didn''t work for them and came to realize football was a better fit.
This year, Wells, Walters, and the Trojans are all reaping the benefits.
"Jeremy has made a complete 180," Bradley said. "He was smart enough to know what he was doing wasn''t right. He accepted responsibility for when he was wrong and is a much better person for it.
"I love Jeremy Wells. I love being around him. He is funny and has a great personality. He''ll give you everything he has on Friday night to try to help the Trojans win a game.
"Raymond is a great kid, and I love him to death. He is a very intelligent young man. I have a lot of great kids like Jeremy and Raymond, which is why I am still in this business."
Wells said he and his teammates are so invested in the football program because they have watched it become a family and develop a tradition. They are confident the days of one- and two-win seasons are gone and will try to do their part to make playoff appearances an annual event.
"When I was in the fourth grade it really wasn''t a family," Wells said. "It didn''t start to become a family until my 10th-grade year. Before coach Bradley came it was like a whole bunch of homeboys out here just running around. You didn''t even have to come to practice if you didn''t want to. Now you will rarely hear someone say they don''t want to be here at this practice. When you come out on the football field it is time to let everything go and it is time to play football."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.