Illini of the Week March 16: Jonathan Wells


Yangwentao (Ryan) Fang

Portrait of Jonathan Wells

By Will Most

Tweet: [email protected]’s Jonathan Wells is our #Illini of the Week after his eighth place finish at NCAA Indoor Championships

Jonathan Wells had already topped the first two heights in the high jump. 

With his final jump remaining, he ran forward, leapt up and just grazed the third and final bar.

Had he cleared the 2.23 meter-tall bar, Wells might have stood even higher on the NCAA Indoor Championships’ podium, at either first or second.

As close as he was to taking home the top prize, Wells was just as close to missing the podium all together. In fact, eight contestants had the same height as Wells, and it was only through a series of tiebreakers that the honors were determined. 

Had Wells not cleared the first height on his first jump, he would not have beat Bradley Adkins, a five-time All-American who had taken second at last year’s indoor championship.

“We went out there and competed,” Wells said. “We knew we had to hit 2.18 to get on the podium, and that is what we did.”

Wells placed 13th at the event in the previous year, and jumped a full three centimeters higher this year. And while the jump certainly led to one of the best moments of his career, it was not his highest jump in the season — he placed his best mark at the Husker Invite in February when he cleared a bar placed at 2.19 meters.

The Illini finished second in the Big Ten Indoors a year ago, but needed the young Wells to contribute to their highly competitive team, and that outdoor season Illinois would go on to take 10th at the outdoor national championships.

“Most decathletes are redshirted as freshman,” Turk said. “We sacrificed what would have normally been a redshirt year for him last year in order to use him in pursuit of a conference title.”

This outdoor season, however, is a completely different story than last season. The reigning Big Ten outdoor champs are struggling to field a competitive team. 

Wells will likely find himself as a redshirt sophomore, using the spring season to focus on what Turk views as his future. Turk, who thinks Wells has the work ethic and talent to someday be a national champion at a multi-event, wants to use the season to fine tune some of his weaker events. 

To reach the level that Turk thinks he can, Wells will have to work on his throwing events — discus and javelin — and events that he has limited success in, like pole vault. And while Turk has the vision of Wells mostly in multi-events, he’s not ruling out the possibility that Wells could participate in individual events later on.

To Turk, Wells’ redshirt season was nearly inevitable, and if he didn’t use this season he might have to spend his entire junior year redshirted. With the team currently bogged down by injuries and unlikely to be as nearly competitive in the outdoor season as they were last year, it seems like an apt time for the head coach to remove Wells from the mix.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Wells said. “Making that move might be the most beneficial thing for the team and myself in the future.”

And while Illini track and field fans are unlikely to see Wells competing for Illinois for the rest of the year, if Turk’s expectations are accurate and his season of training goes well, a national title could be well worth Wells’ wait.

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