By Darrell K. Ardison
The Texas high school football coaching profession nearly missed out on one of its leading practitioners.
Dawson High School head football coach Eric Wells has established an impeccable track record for success.
Yet following his graduation from Stephen F. Austin State University after a two-year stint at UTEP, Wells thought his calling was in another area before fate intervened.
“I was thinking about going to law school and becoming a lawyer,” Wells said. “I come from a family that’s been in the political arena. My mother is an elected official and my brother is a chief administrator for all of Harris County. I was actually working at a law firm when I received a phone call.
“They wanted me to be a graduate assistant at SFA so I did that,” Wells said. “About a year after that Alan Weddell hired me to be an assistant coach at La Marque High School.”
Not only was Wells going back to coach at his alma mater, he was joining a staff that included Tony Heath (Pearland), Leland Surovik (Texas City), David Suggs (Beaumont Ozen), Mark Kanipes (Santa Fe) and Larry Walker (Port Arthur Jefferson). All of whom would eventually become head coaches.
“The time I spent at La Marque as a young coach molded me into what I am today,” Wells said. “All of us were in coaching for the right reasons – teach kids to do things the right way, not compromising your standards or the golden rule just to win a football game.
“I was taught the football part will take care of itself as a young coach. That’s what I’m teaching my assistant coaches now. It’s the same thing every year. Teaching the kids to do what’s right and to believe in one another and making them realize that when they do things the right way, they’re going to be successful. After that, football will take care of itself.”
Wells places a premium on efficiency during his practices.
“We’re going to find ways to run the ball successfully,” he said. “Everybody runs variations of the same plays. What I learn from other coaches is how they practice certain plays. How do you keep tempo and still let the kids learn fundamentals.
“Success in the running game leads to success in the passing game,” Wells said. “Being able to keep defenses off balance is our whole game in a nutshell.”
Wells won two state titles (1995, 1996) as an offensive line coach at La Marque.
As an offensive coordinator at Pearland High School, Wells engineered a rushing attack that produced three all-state running backs and three of the all-time leading rushers in Texas high school football history.
Anthony Evans (UH) had 6,192 rushing yards and scored 66 touchdowns from 1997-2000 to rank No. 4 on the list. Foswhitt Whittaker (UT, Carolina Panthers) is No. 6 with 5,717 yards and 51 touchdowns from 2004-2006. Brandon Roberson (Northwestern) is at the No. 10 spot with 5,235 yards and 65 TDs from 2001-2003.
Since Dawson opened in 2007, the Eagles have made a tradition of competing for state titles under Wells’ guidance, winning two regional crowns along the way (2009, 2011). The 2015 season marked the first time the Eagles failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.
Dawson will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2016 with a newly-aligned District 23-6A. Gone are the likes of Manvel, Alvin and the Pasadena ISD schools.
Dawson, Pearland, Alief Elsik, Alief Hastings, Alief Taylor, Brazoswood and 2015 Class 5A Div. I state champion George Ranch will comprise 23-6A.
Dawson’s offense will be fortified by the return of quarterback Zach Smith. “He understands our offense and can extend plays,” Wells said. “He’s an excellent athlete with a live arm. He’s been our starting shortstop in baseball since he was a freshman.
“Zach can run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash so a lot of what we’ll do this year will evolve around him,” Wells said. “We’ll have some new faces around him so we have some rebuilding to do.”
Wells’ son, Spencer, will be another experienced hand at tight end.
The Dawson defense will have plenty of proven commodities led by middle linebacker Patrick Howell, linebacker Michael Williams, lineman Desmond Clifton along with Bryce Victorian and Bryce Stevenson in the secondary.
“On defense we’ll have as much speed as we’ve ever had,” Wells said.
“We’re going to approach each district game like it’s a playoff game,” Wells said. “It should be a fun year.”