HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- For the first time since Russell Wilson quarterbacked the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX six years ago, a football player with Central Region roots will play in the big game.
Tampa offensive lineman Josh Wells played football for Hanover High School and James Madison University before starting his NFL career in 2014.
Wells' football career almost never got off the ground, because as a baby, his mother would never put him on the ground.
"I carried him on my hip for a long time when he was young," Joy Wells said. "My husband said, 'you need to put him down off your hip so he can actually do things.'"
The things he wanted to do all involved football.
Jeff Wells taught his son everything he could about the game.
The lessons started with work ethic.
"We just knew that hard work should pay off," Jeff Wells said. "We saw that he had some ability at a young age and we just instilled in him that you have to practice. You have to be better than that next person."
In the fifth grade, Josh wrote a composition for school about how much he admired his father and about his dream of playing in the NFL.
"He's just my hero," Josh Wells said "How he gets up and goes to work every day no matter what's going on. Things like that. I think the example he set for me. He's always had my back and told me to keep working and keep pushing."
Josh made Hanover's varsity team as a freshman. He played quarterback as a junior and senior.
But when it came time to play in college, he had to walk on at James Madison.
He did not earn a scholarship until his senior year and had to switch positions first to tight end and then offensive lineman.
"He just wanted to play football. Didn't matter what position, just put me wherever you need me," Jeff Wells said. "He gained the weight and worked out. His senior year, he was second-team all-CAA."
But even with that success, he was not selected in the NFL draft.
"He would never really say, but you could see it in his face where he would think I'm going to have to continue to work," Jeff Wells recalled ."You work to a certain point and you feel that you're at your pinnacle and no draft. I have to do it all over again as a walk-on."
Wells did have 11 teams offer him an invitation to training camp. He settled on Jacksonville where he made the team as an undrafted free agent.
Another improbable hurdle overcome.
"I still get choked up when I see him play" Joy added. "We see him hit the field for the first time in every game, and you get emotional. When he does go in, you don't even look at the game, you look at him."
"They've always had the best intentions for me even when I couldn't see it at the time," Josh said. "It's a blessing honestly. God's given me everything I've got. I've worked with the things he's given me."
Seven years later, Wells is headed to the Super Bowl with Tampa.
The former high school quarterback and college tight end is on his third positional transformation as a player.
This one has stuck, much like all the lessons and love from his parents growing up in Hanover.
"I cry every time he gets on the field" Joy admitted. "I've always told him, do your best on the field. Whatever is on the field, let it stay on the field. When you come off the field, you're a different person."
"There's been times where I wanted to quit, transfer, or go somewhere else or things like that. I couldn't quite see it. But to be in this moment and be able to share it with them, I'm just as excited for them as I am for myself," Josh Wells said.
"We're overwhelmed because he's had to work for everything he's ever gotten in life. To be here is just amazing" Jeff added.
"We've been through a lot. They've been through a lot. They've sacrificed everything from day one," Josh said. "When I was a little kid and causing problems just like every other little kid. They never stopped believing in me and set an example by how they live their life."
Wells and his Tampa team take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV this Sunday on CBS 6.
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