ORANGE — Dwayne “Bubba” Wells has had quite the journey early in his football career.
As an eighth grader, he broke his leg in practice prior to the Orange County junior varsity football team’s season.
Now fully recovered, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore running back is as explosive as ever and making a name for himself with the Hornets’ varsity team.
Earlier this season, he rushed for a career-high 166 yards and three touchdowns to lead Orange County to a 54-27 victory over visiting Culpeper County.
Wells had scoring runs of 15 and 32 yards in the first half and brought the fans at Porterfield Park to their feet with a 66-yard scoring jaunt in the second half as his team opened the season with a 2-0 record. Defensively, he posted 7.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
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“This has to be the best game I have ever played,” Wells said of the performance at the time. “If the offensive line keeps playing like they are, there will be many more nights like last week.”
The sophomore running back said he had a feeling that something special was going to happen in the game.
“I felt like it was going to be a good game from the start of the week,” he said. “I was going hard in practice all week and I was just ready to play and give it my all. I couldn’t have done anything without the great blocking from my offensive line. Their blocking set up the perfect opportunity for me to execute and I followed through.”
Despite his diminutive frame, Wells has always played bigger than his size. He picked up the game at the age of five at the request of his dad and uncle.
“I also played baseball and wrestled, but I liked football the most because I would always watch Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson highlights all the time and I wanted to be like them,” Wells said. “I l just loved the contact of the sport and being able to run up and down the field like Marshawn and Adrian.”
Wells has channeled his inner “Beast Mode” this season as he’s emerged as a dynamic two-way performer.
“Ever since I started playing football, I have always wanted to be like Marshawn Lynch,” Wells said, “because he is a hard runner and it takes more than one person to take him down and he is always fighting for his team.”
Orange County coach Jesse Lohr isn’t surprised by Wells’ early success this season. He said Wells trained hard during the offseason to prepare for this moment and has taken advantage of the opportunity.
“Bubba has always been one of the better players in his age group,” Lohr said. “Bubba is a great young man that loves football. ... He is well liked by his teammates and it’s always fun to coach players who enjoy the process.”
Wells joins Christian Simpson and Bryant Chiles in a very talented backfield for the Hornets. Each player has their own unique skill set and they strive to make each other better. In Lohr’s offense, he likes to spread the carries out to keep everyone fresh.
“In our offense, no one back is going to have but so many touches,” Lohr said. “Bubba being a sophomore, I just felt in time he would be the running back we are seeing. I knew he was capable of doing it.”
Wells is very happy with his role in the Orange offense.
“I feel like we have a perfect game plan every single week,” he said. “We have so many weapons on the field. Our wide receivers are very talented and we have multiple running backs that can do it all. We don’t just have to run the ball. We can beat opponents over the top with our wide receivers if the defense focuses on the run too much. I feel like I fit perfect with the offense because I can run the ball when I have to and set up and block when our quarterback has to set up and throw the ball.”
The young running back also is very eager to learn. Offensively, he said the most underrated part of his game is in his receiving. He continues to work on his route running and believes it could add another dimension to his game. Defensively, he’s a lock-down cornerback with great instincts and a nose for the football.
Wells believes playing both sides of the ball has been instrumental in his progression.
“I like playing both sides of the ball, mostly because I want to help my team out the most I can,” Wells said. “My favorite part about offense is being able to run over people, but I like defense a little more because I get to hit more and attack the ball.”
Wells’ journey to varsity success has had its challenges. In 2021, he was set to play junior varsity football for Orange County as an eighth grader because his middle school didn’t have a team. His season was derailed early on after he broke his leg on the first day of full pads in practice.
“I knew it was a bad injury, but I knew I had to work hard to get back healthy because I couldn’t let one injury stop me from playing the game I love,” he said. “I don’t think it affected my speed at all. I think I got faster because I had to work hard to get my leg stronger.”
“He seems to be back to full strength now,” he said. “He looks like he is bigger, faster and stronger.”
Wells, who was given the nickname “Bubba” by his mother as a child, prioritizes family time. Away from school, he likes to help his five-year-old brother Dahmeir, who plays football with the Orange County Hornets Little League team.
Also in his free time, he’s been known to dabble in video games, challenging teammates and friends in Madden or NBA 2K.
In the classroom, his favorite subject is math.
One interesting fact about Wells is that his thumbs are double-jointed, which allows him to grip the football better.
Wells is ecstatic with the way the season has started and has high aspirations for himself and the team moving forward.
“We lost a lot of great players [from last year], but we had people step up and fill their spots perfectly,” he said. “It means a lot to me that I can help the team out and continue to be great. We all give off positive energy to each other and we all have each other’s backs and know without all of us, we wouldn’t have anything.”