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Logan • Jeff Manning eyed the line of scrimmage as Utah State’s quarterback of the moment, scanning the Aggies’ first-team defense and attempting to audible out of the called play at the same time.
The freshman flinched. The offensive line moved, causing a false start. An animated Matt Wells called for another quarterback. He then gently counseled the rookie, who returned and completed three consecutive passes to finish USU’s scrimmage in 95-degree heat.
About Matt Wells
» Under Wells, USU’s passing efficiency improved from 108th in FBS play to 18th in 2011.
» Coached at New Mexico, Tulsa and the Naval Academy before heading to USU
» A former Utah State quarterback who earned three letters
» Mentored Chuckie Keeton and Adam Kennedy last season
To know Matt Wells is to witness a competitor. This is a man who holds nightly races with his three children to see who can brush their teeth the fastest. To watch Wells in his first season as Utah State’s offensive coordinator is to see a team consistently prepared. Nothing is left to chance for Wells, who demands perfection of himself as much as he does from his players.
"He’s always telling us not to make crap up," sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton says. "He’s a great coach, and it’s been great working with him for the time I’ve been here. Anything that’s said at a meeting, he wants it to automatically translate to the field."
Wells has been a fast riser through the coaching ranks. At 38, he’s relatively young to be leading an offense. He replaced Dave Baldwin, a longtime coaching veteran who led USU to one of the most prolific offensive seasons in school history, and became a lightning rod because of his conservative playcalling.
Wells is aware of his youth. But this is also the first coaching staff he has been on where he wasn’t the youngest member.
Wells has tweaked the Aggie offense to give it more of a spread look, loading in as many plays and reps as possible during the tight window of preseason camp. With the alterations, USU fans can expect the ball to be thrown downfield more frequently, and for the wide receivers to be much more involved — all without losing what the Aggies developed last season with Baldwin’s running game.
With a week to go before Southern Utah visits Logan, the offense is still a work in progress. On some days, everything runs smoothly and Wells thinks his team will be prolific. On others, it’s a struggle and Wells is frustrated.
"I want to do things differently, but I want to do the same things that we did to make us successful last season," Wells said. "I want to be a guy that thinks outside the box. I want to be a risk taker, but I want to be conservative when the situation calls for it."
Wells knows pressure comes with the territory as an offensive coordinator. But he says he can handle it. He’s a Utah State alum, a quarterback who played for John L. Smith. He backed up Anthony Calvillo, the greatest quarterback statistically in school history, then started for two seasons before going back to the bench for his senior year.
Those experiences have helped. Wells went through a gamut of emotions. He was benched. He was booed. He questioned his worth as a player at times. But he made it through, and he found a way to contribute.
As USU’s quarterbacks coach last season, he chose Keeton to be his starter in 2011, but kept Adam Kennedy mentally prepared enough to step in and win five games down the stretch. His trials as a player, while frustrating at times, have helped him immeasurably as a coach.
"I was just good enough to not be the man, which is probably why I’m coaching," Wells said. "Things happen for a reason. As a starter, I broke records as a sophomore. I got benched. I was a redshirt and a scout team guy. I played on special teams. I was everything but a superstar. I’ve told my guys that I’ve been where they are right now."
Like Brian Johnson at Utah this season and Brandon Doman at BYU last year, Wells faces pressure to produce right away. But it’s just another step for Wells, another challenge for him to conquer.
"Matt doesn’t like to lose at anything," his wife, Jen, said with a laugh. "We can’t play a board game without him trying to cheat. This is his dream, and he’s been looking forward to this. It’s a challenge, but he’s excited. This is where he wants to be."
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