CLEMSON, S.C. — Joel Wells, the only Clemson running back to be selected to an All-America team in the 1950s, passed away on Sunday, Sept. 4 at the age of 87.
Wells came to Clemson as a freshman in 1953 after having earned Mr. Football honors in the state of South Carolina as a senior in the fall of 1952. He started at a running back position for Frank Howard’s Tigers in 1954, 1955 and 1956 and led the Tigers in rushing all three years.
Wells earned first-team All-ACC honors in 1955 and 1956. As a junior in 1955, he rushed for 782 yards and scored five touchdowns. At the end of the season he was named a third-team All-American by United Press International, one of just four Clemson All-Americans in the 1950s. Prior to his senior year, he was the lone player to adorn the cover of the 1956 NCAA Football media guide.
Wells lived up to the billing in 1956 when he had a career-high 803 yards rushing and scored eight touchdowns. That included 125 rushing yards and two scores in the Orange Bowl against Colorado.
Clemson won the ACC Championship in 1956 and ranked 19th in the final AP poll with a 7-2-2 record.
Wells finished his career with 1,937 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 201 yards and had 341 kickoff return yards. A true triple threat player of his era, Wells also had five career interceptions.
In the winter of 1957, Wells was drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers. Selected with the 18th overall selection, he would be considered a first-round draft choice by today’s standards.
Wells opted to play in the Canadian Football League between 1957-60 for the Montreal Alouettes. In those four seasons, he rushed for 1,430 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also had 95 receptions for 1,103 yards and four receiving touchdowns. He was named to the CFL East All-Star team in 1958.
Wells played for the New York Giants in 1961 as a running back and played in all 14 regular season games, three as a starter. He finished that year with 216 yards. He played as a running back in the 1961 NFL Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
After his playing career, Wells went on to a business career in Greenville, S.C., where he became a partner in IH Services before retiring in 1999.
In addition to his wife, Alexandra, Wells is survived by his children: Skye Todd (Brad Holmes), Steve Dudash (Ellen), Tyna Todd, Erien Booker (Jim), Shan Lipscomb (Jim), Joel Norwood (Lynn), 13 grandchildren and three great grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
A private family gathering will be held at a later date to celebrate his life. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Hospice and Palliative Foundation, 110 Dillon Dr, Spartanburg, SC 29307.
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