Move to defense has paid off for Wellmaker, LaGrange

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

As a freshman running back, LaGrange’s Tirell Wellmaker didn’t bother trying to fake out defenders. Instead, he preferred

to find someone to run over.

Gators head coach Jules Sullen decided

Wellmaker’s physical style was better suited for defense. Wellmaker

initially resisted

the move but is now the leader of the defense. He has intercepted

eight passes while leading the Gators to a 7-3 record and

their first home playoff game in 13 years.

Wellmaker helped the Gators win a share of the District 4-4A championship last Friday, intercepting two passes, returning

one for a touchdown, and scoring again on a 39-yard reception.

“Winning that game felt good,” Wellmaker said. “It was big for the coaches and community that we get to host a game. It feels

good to be getting ready for this playoff game. We have not had one here in a long time.”

While a running back, Wellmaker’s physical style caught Sullen’s eye.

“He showed great potential,” Sullen

said. “I had never seen a running back that physical. We would complain

because he never

tried to dodge a defender, just run over them. I told the running

backs coach he wasn’t a running back. They argued with me,

but I told them somebody that’s not trying to score a touchdown

because they want to hit somebody is not a running back. We

moved him to strong safety/linebacker and it has worked out really

well.”

Wellmaker was not enthused about the move.

“I didn’t want to change, but then when I started playing defense and saw the plan they had for me, I loved it,” he said.

“I like the big hits and having to step up and make big plays, but it was hard to leave running back.

“I think covering is my biggest strength as a player. As a team, I thing our biggest strength is just coming together as a

family when we need to.”

The Gators allowed a district-low 14 points per game. Wellmaker credits the defensive linemen — McKenzie Lewis, Malcolm Miles, Louis Whatley and Javon Parker — with the unit’s success.

They put pressure on the quarterback and put me in a position to make big plays,” he said. “It is easier for us to cover when

they are getting pressure.”

Wellmaker said he has enjoyed being a leader of the team during his senior season.

“All my coaches and teammates are like brothers to me,” he said. “I enjoy every moment. Every practice, every game has been

a joy so far.

“It is different being a senior. A lot

of my teammates look at me as a big brother. I make sure there is no

clowning at practice

or in class. I tell them if they need anything, they can call me

and I will be there for them. (McNeese State defensive back)

Aaron Sam and (former Gators running back) Darius Edwards helped

me when I was younger. They were humble and stayed focus.

When it was time to play, they made big plays and they were great

kids.”

Wellmaker said he gets inspired by younger brother, Antonio Jr.

“He inspires me big time,” Wellmaker. “He can’t walk or see. Every time I step on the field I think about him and it motivates

me to do well so that I will be able to help him. I want to help bring the team as far as we can go, keep my grades up and

just dominate.”

Sullen said Wellmaker is an ideal role model.

“He is truly a coach’s player,” Sullen said. “He comes to practice early, he enjoys the weight room and the film room. The

kids look up to him, but what really caught my eye is how much his teachers like him. They talk about how well-mannered he

is. You can see kids flocking to him. It says a lot about him.

“We have a tutoring program and you can see him helping kids. He does it in the classroom and on the field. We have started

playing him on offense and he is scoring touchdowns. He is a great kid to have and is well-respected.”