There’s a saying that there’s a difference between playing hurt and playing injured.
When you’re Derrick Wells playing in the Big Ten, playing hurt is part of the deal, especially when playing cornerback.
At 6-foot, 206 pounds, Wells may have gained almost 40 pounds since his days at Lehigh Senior High, but the Minnesota Gophers’ DB still has to tackle running backs bigger than him and cover wide receivers who are taller.
Getting banged and bumped is part of the deal.
“Coach (Jerry Kill) talks about being hurt and injured,” Wells said. “If you’re injured, you have to sit out, but if you’re playing hurt, you’re never injured.
“It is a mental thing. You gotta learn to work through it and stay positive and realize it’ll be all right. And keep playing.”
Wells went into Thursday night’s season opener with UNLV with ankle and shoulder injuries.
Last season, he fought through a cut on his right leg. “I was still trying to help my teammates,” he said.
Wells believes he’s part of Minnesota secondary that’s one of the best in the country.
The numbers back him up. The Gophers ranked No. 12 last year in pass defense. They intercepted 13 passes, limited quarterbacks to a 57.18 completion percentage and held foes to 6 yards per passing attempt.
Last season, Wells tied for third on the team in tackles (74), was second in solo tackles (46), second on the team in pass breakups (10) and also made two interceptions, both against UNLV. For that, he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Bronko Nagurski National Player of the Week.
Kill said Wells could play corner, safety or wide receiver. Gulf Coast High coach Pete Fominaya, who coached Wells at Lehigh, said he played quarterback and punted.
“We always knew he was really gifted,” Fominaya said.
But what impresses Fominaya the most about Wells is his smarts.
“His football IQ is through the roof, unlike any player I’ve seen,” he said. “He understands how things work and fit. He understands how the game should be played. I could get in complex discussions with him on coverages or schemes.”
Wells appeared set to go to Ball State, Fominaya said, until he convinced Minnesota coaches — who had been at Northern Illinois — to “take a look at this kid.”
Wells’ football knowledge goes back to when he was a tyke, said mother Margaret Babb.
“I used to watch football and he used to watch too at age 5,” she recalled. “He’d be watching the plays and knew what the play should do.
“He never played Pop Warner until he was 10, but it just came natural. When people would ask if he played before, I said, ‘No but he watched a lot of football.’ “
Wells’ knowledge has allowed Minnesota coaches to move him from safety to corner. He’ll still be relied on to make a lot of tackles while covering wide receivers 1 on 1.
“There’s so many plays,” he said. “Now that I’m back at corner, I know what to do. I know what they want from me so I can play with more confidence.”
Even if he’s playing with pain.