By: Ron Higgins
SEC Digital Network
It’s pretty much a given that in life or in football, Scott Wells doesn’t seek the easy route.
The National Football League opens its 93rd regular season tonight, with Scott, a University of Tennessee graduate, among the former 251 Southeastern Conference players on the active rosters of all 32 NFL teams.
You could probably run a computer program search on the SEC’s NFL contingent, and you won’t find anyone like Scott, who’s starting in his first season with the St. Louis Rams after being the heart and soul of the Green Bay Packers’ O-line for the last eight years.
You definitely won’t find someone who began his career as the fifth from last player picked in the 2004 NFL draft and is now the third-highest paid center in the game. Scott parlayed a Super Bowl ring he won two years ago and Pro Bowl honors he earned last year into a four-year, $24 million free agent contract with the Rams.
You surely won’t find someone celebrating his most lucrative payday ever by going to Uganda as Scott did with his wife Julie this past summer and adopting three children -- Caroline (5), Elijah (3) and R.J. (2). That trio joins the couple’s three biological children, Jackson (8), Lola (5) and Kingston (2).
If you’re scoring at home, that’s four boys and two girls. The Scott and Julie Bunch, indeed.
“This is a new chapter in our lives,” says Scott, 31. “We closed a chapter of our lives in Green Bay and we’re opening a new chapter in St. Louis with three new additions to our family. We honestly feel it’s the path God sent us on and we’re doing our best to follow it.”
Again, it’s not an easy path or a convenient course. But if you trace Scott back to his high school days, he never blinks when things get difficult.
"When somebody says I can't do something, it makes me want to do something even more,” Scott said. “Julie probably hates that about me, but it drives me."
As a high school star at Brentwood Academy in the Nashville area, he was chosen as the TSSAA Division 2 Class A 'Mr. Football' in 1998 after leading Brentwood (11-1) to the state finals. He was also ranked as the nation's No. 1 high school heavyweight wrestler (177-11 career record).
Yet, his friends advised him not to sign with the Vols. They thought Scott’s lack of size and the fact he played lesser competition at a private school would get him lost in the shuffle in Knoxville behind the four and five-star rated recruits.
"But one of the reasons I chose Tennessee is that I thought I could play in the NFL," Scott recalls. "I remember sitting down with my parents and telling them, 'I want to play in the NFL so if I go to Tennessee and can't play there, then I need to re-evaluate my goals.' I wanted to take on the biggest challenge to see if my goal was obtainable, and it worked out."
At Tennessee after being redshirted as a freshman in 1999, Scott started three of his last four seasons from 2000-03 and played in 50 career games recording 49 consecutive starts, the third-longest streak in college football history among offensive linemen.
His durability and dependability led the Packers to finally take a chance on him as a seventh and last round pick at No. 251 in the ’04 draft. Almost not being drafted at all lit his fuse.
"The most important thing is to get your foot in the door, and you shouldn't worry about how you do it," explains Scott, who earned B.A. degrees in history and sociology from Tennessee. "Being a late-round pick is a blessing in disguise because there are fewer expectations of you so there's less internal stress. If you can do something that can surprise the coaching staff and keep their attention, when it comes down to cut time, you stick out in their mind.
“When you get your chance on the field, you fight like a bulldog. Having that fight and being coachable is more important than having perfect technique or never blowing an assignment."
By his third season when Scott missed only two snaps all season at center, playing a team-high 99.8 percent of the offensive snaps, he signed a five-year, $15 million contract extension in November 2006.
For the next four seasons, he fought through a laundry list of injuries (shoulder, knee, back, ankle, chest, eye socket), and even survived the start of one season when he inexplicably opened the year as the Pack's No. 2 center behind Jason Spitz. By game three, he was starting again.
"I proved the coaches wrong, and they said publicly they made a bad decision,” Scott recalls.
As Green Bay transitioned away from one future Hall of Fame quarterback (Brett Favre) to another (Aaron Rodgers), the bridge was Scott. Before the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25 in the Super Bowl in February 2011, Packers coach Mike McCarthy emphasized Scott’s importance, noting Scott’s knack for reading defenses and making the correct blocking calls and adjustments before each snap.
There’s no doubt that Scott had an unimaginably nice run in Green Bay. He connected with the city and its rabid fans every way possible, and became a regular on The Tim Brando Show on CBS TV Sports every Tuesday (he still is) during football season.
At the end of last season, though, Scott was caught in a perfect job advancement storm, becoming a free agent after finally earning Pro Bowl recognition for the first time in his career.
He was so relaxed and confident about his future that he let his agent, Brian Parker, handle all inquiries from prospective employers.
“Scott never once discussed money going into free agency,” Parker says. “He was concerned about playing closer to home and playing for a coach he admired.”
The fact that Scott was a wanted commodity, for his smarts, durability and his consistency, helped Parker of Rep 1 Sports, the Irvine, California-based sports agency founded by cousins Bruce and Ryan Tollner, in sifting through suitors.
Parker did his job, not only getting Scott a hefty contract, but also giving him options that included signing with Scott’s hometown Tennessee Titans.
“It was nice to sit back and have options, because a lot of guys don’t have options,” says Wells, who adds he still has much love and respect for the Packers’ players and coaches. “Brian did a great job of giving me options.”
The Titans wanted him bad enough to bring him in on a visit the same day they were making a pitch to another former Tennessee Vol named Peyton Manning.
It seemed like a no-brainer that Wells would sign with the Titans. No longer would he have to shuttle his wife and three kids between two locales – whatever team he was playing for and Nashville.
Home would be, well, his home. Nashville is Scott’s roots and is where he wants to live when he retires.
Yet, he had this overwhelming desire to play for the Rams because of former Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher, who coached the Oilers/Titans for 16 ½ years through the 2010 season. Fisher resigned, stayed out of the game a year and was highly sought after when he became the Rams’ coach this past Jan. 13.
“I followed him since I was in high school in Nashville,” Scott says. “I’ve known a lot of guys who’ve played for him, and they said he’s the ultimate player’s coach.
“(Green Bay) Coach McCarthy was that way, too. But I also wanted to play for a coach I grew up watching and playing for someone who was greatly admired by the guys who played for him.
“I enjoyed my visit to St. Louis, enjoyed all the coaching staff. And I guess I wanted to be part of an organization that was turning something around. Two years after I got to Green Bay, we were in the NFC championship game. I really cherish things like that.”
Something else Scott cherishes is his faith and his family and they’ve both always gone hand-in-hand. Julie and the kids give Scott the life balance he’s needed away from football.
At one time, Scott’s family could have been larger. But five years ago on Thanksgiving Day, the Wells lost twin boys that were still born.
“That’s when we first talked about adopting,” Scott says. “Through the years, we sort of kept it in mind, because it was all around us. Our kids’ school in Nashville had many adopted children and it seemed like everyone around us was adopting.
“We’d always read books on adoption, always kept open the discussion. But it felt God was guiding us toward it, with all these adoptions around us. So after our last child Kingston was born, we got serious about adopting. We just felt it was time.”
Uganda moved to the top of the Wells’ list as a place to adopt for a couple of reasons, one being they had friends who had adopted from that country.
“And from talking with people who had done mission work in Uganda,” Scott says, “The life expectancy is very low because of all the diseases – malaria, tuberculosis, HIV. Again, God was pointing us in that direction. We were just drawn to Uganda.”
A year and a half ago, the Wells began the adoption process. They wanted two children, three years old or younger, either two boys or a boy and a girl.
Julie Wells did a lot of the legwork while her husband concentrated last season on defending the Packers’ Super Bowl championship. She persistently called Ugandan orphanages, and explained what she and her husband were about.
One of the country’s most reputable orphanages soon found two boys, ages 3 and 2, for Scott and Julie. Two months after that, the orphanage called again and said they discovered the 2-year old boy had a sister. Would the Wells adopt all three?
“I didn’t see any difference between having a total of five or six kids, and neither did Julie,” Scott says. “We instantly both felt the same way.”
Late last year, anticipating the adoption hopefully being approved this past summer, the Wells sent a photo album to Uganda for the three kids to view.
This off-season became a whirlwind. After Scott signed his new deal with the Rams, he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to remove loose cartilage that had been floating around. Once the sutures were removed, he and Julie headed to Uganda on June 13 to hopefully bring back their adopted kids.
It wasn’t that easy.
Scott and Julie had to walk a fine line due to the corruption associated with Ugandan adoptions. He had to disclose to the Ugandan courts he was financially stable enough to adopt, but he didn’t want to disclose how he made his living. Plus, the adoption agency had him sign a waiver making him promise not discuss the adoption on social media before the adoption was complete.
“They wanted us to low-key it,” Scott says. “That’s kind of hard when you’re a big white guy with a red beard in Uganda.”
In the meantime, the Wells knew they were not coming home without the kids. The first time little Elijah saw big Scott at the orphanage, recognizing him from his photo album, the little boy turned a 300-pound side of beef into mush when he hugged him and said, “Daddy!”
All through the adoption process while in Uganda, Wells studied his Rams’ playbook on I-pad and primitively rehabbed his knee using a pocket-size muscle stimulation unit, resistance bands, a suspension training device he hung in a doorway and an exercise ball for abdominal work.
Old school training, like movie character boxer Rocky Balboa training in frozen, barren Russia for a fight with Russian heavyweight Ivan Drago?
“My wife called it my prison workout, because it was all done inside my room,” Scott says.
Scott came back to the United States on July 13 to prepare for the start of training camp leaving Julie in Uganda. Julie had to remain to finalize the adoptions.
Although his knee wasn’t 100 percent, he concentrated on the task at hand of being a veteran batterymate who could help third-year starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
“Sam has had a tough road, he’s had a different offense to learn every year being in the league,” Scott says. “The coaches want me to simplify the pre-snap responsibilities for the quarterback.”
It’s clear Fisher has great respect for his new starting center, and understands he’ll be a huge asset for Bradford.
“Scott anticipates things, makes the (blocking scheme) calls and makes them correctly all the time,” Fisher says. “He learned the offense quickly.”
Because of Fisher’s faith in Scott, the new Rams’ coach had no problem giving Scott the day off from the team’s August 18 exhibition game against the Chiefs so he could experience one of the greatest days of his life.
It was when Julie arrived in Nashville with the couple’s long awaited precious cargo.
It was quite a scene when Julie stepped off the plane. Jackson, the oldest of the Wells’ three biological children, cried seeing his mother for the first time in 10 weeks.
Just this past week, the family made the move to their new football season home in St. Louis. When the season is over, they’ll move back to Nashville like Scott and Julie and crew have done every year of his pro career.
Scott has been extremely proud of the way his biological kids have meshed with their new brothers and sister, and vice-versa.
“My oldest son Jackson has done a good job of including his two new brothers and showing them around,” Scott says. “And my daughter Lola has always wanted a sister, so it’s huge for her to have someone she can do girl things with, like playing dress up or playing with dolls.
“It was a moment of pride to see how they responded. They just understood the situation. I didn’t have to say anything to them.”
Caroline, Elijah and R.J. are slowly becoming Americanized. They are getting used to Scott and Julie’s big dogs roaming around the house, and they’ve taken a shine to Sonic and Chick-fil-A. Caroline is learning to love watching movies.
Now, Scott happily has an even bigger, but most welcomed challenge with his expanded family tree.
“Gotta find more Scott Wells jerseys,” he says with the laugh of a man who’s discovered the joy of taking the tougher roads less traveled.