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By Damin Esper

Photo Credit: Jared Darling

Special to Chabot Athletics

Chabot College football coach Eric Fanene is blunt with his praise of defensive back Darriell Wells. "He's one of, if not the best corner we've had at Chabot in our tenure," Fanene said. Fanene has been head coach for three years and some of the staff predates that, so it's quite a compliment. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore has six interceptions in the Gladiators first five games, tied with San Bernardino Valley's Jhalen Haynes for the most in California. "He has gotten a lot faster," Fanene said. "He did a great job in the offseason. He's stronger, faster, smarter. And that's saying a lot because he was our best last year and he got better. He's one of, if not the best, corners in the state of California."

Four-year colleges are taking notice. San Jose State has offered, and other programs are talking to him. Wells said he is taking it low-key. "I'm just letting it take its course," he said. "I'm just praying on it. God will give me the sign for what's best for me." Wells grew up in Hammond, Louisiana, the oldest of four boys. He was raised by his grandma and enjoyed playing baseball, football and basketball. He did the latter two at Ponchatoula High School and may have even loved basketball better, where he played point guard. "Now I got a better shot," Wells said. "Probably then I was more of a driver, go to the goal like (Russell) Westbrook."

Unlike some schools, Ponchatoula had enough numbers to not force players to play both ways. So Wells was able to focus on defense. "I only played one side of the ball," Wells said. "We had a lot of people at our school." Did he ever want to try wide receiver? "I feel like I can play receiver most definitely," he said. Fanene agreed. "He could probably play wide receiver for us," Fanene said.

He has been just fine on defense, however. "In high school, I was a good coverage corner always," Wells said. "My tackling was pretty good. In college, I got more aggressive. My ball skills got way better. And my tackling. I improved that too. After graduation, Wells's cousin Davonte Green suggested they head to California. Wells was game. Green ended up going to College of the Sequoias but Wells found a home at Chabot. Does being so far away from home make Wells homesick? "Sometimes," he admitted. "But I Facetime my people all the time."

Wells has worked hard since coming to California. He said he can continue to improve. "Just keying my the person I'm supposed to be on," he said. "At times, I get out of focus. Sometimes, I get a little ahead of myself, trying to make the tackle. My footwork can improve a little bit. So can my communications." Fanene's list of improvement points is nowhere near as long. "There's nothing you can point to and say, 'You need to work on this,'" Fanene said. Wells said he studies each receiver he faces. "Every receiver is different," he said. "Just going against that have different get off. Sometimes the receivers might be quick off the line or sometimes the receivers might not be as quick off the line. Every week I've got to study them. "At this point, as long as I study my film it just brings me more confidence. As long as I'm doing my job, it'll come. I just got to be patient. Every week, I'm waiting for it." That work impresses Fanene. "To be a great cornerback, you have to have savvy," Fanene said. "He comes to us with things that he sees. He's going to get older; he's going to get more mature."

Wells said he would like to study business and marketing and that he would like to turn his love of shoes into owning a shoe store when he's done playing. Would that shoe store be back home or out in California? Wells said he likes both parts of the country. "It's pretty cool in California," he said. "Going closer to home wouldn't be bad but if I had to stay out here, I wouldn't mind either."

Said Fanene, "He's a great football player. He's a great kid."

NOTE: The Gladiators (3-2) are gearing up for their Bay 6 Conference opener on Friday, October 18 against East Bay-rival Diablo Valley College (3-2). Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Pleasant Hill. Chabot quarterback Chayce Akaka leads the conference in passing at 230.8 yards a game and in touchdown passes with 12. Chabot's Janiero Crankfield also leads the Bay 6 with 24 receptions.