Former University of Montana football and academic standout Matt Wells has been selected to the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame, athletic director Kent Haslam announced Monday.
A 5-foot-7, 160-pound wide receiver and punt returner, Wells played football for the Grizzlies from 1992-95. Montana went 40-12 overall and 22-6 in the Big Sky Conference during the four-year starter’s tenure.
“It is a pleasure to welcome Matt Wells as the newest member of the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame,” Haslam said. “He had a remarkable career as a Grizzly football student-athlete and has been an excellent representative of the University of Montana after his graduation. We are proud to call Matt a Grizzly and honored to have him join this prestigious group of individuals and teams.”
Wells is ranked among Montana’s all-time leaders with 248 catches for 3,342 yards, and 23 receiving career touchdowns. (These totals include I-AA playoff games.)
“I was in St. Louis driving to an appointment when I got a voicemail message from Kent Haslamand I pretty much had to pull off to the side of the road I was shaking, and it was a pretty cool moment to know the caliber of athletes that are in the Hall of Fame,” said Wells, who now lives in Parkville, Missouri (a suburb of Kansas City). “I don’t think of myself like them, but it’s great to know that others do, and that’s really exciting. In fact, I woke up this morning at 5:30 and wondered, “am I dreaming this?” Still, it hasn’t sunk in. It’s a pretty special thing.”
He made the best of his initial opportunity as a freshman, making a (then) career-high 12 catches in the second half in a 27-12 loss at Kansas State.
“I really remember that (Kansas State) game,” said Wells, who is the divisional vice president covering Missouri and Kanas for American International Group (AIG), a multinational financial and insurance corporation. “A lot of people don’t know this, but my brother (Mark) was a West Pointer and never got to see any of my high school games, and he was stationed there at Fort Riley (in Kansas) and got leave, so he was at the game.
“I remember it was the first or second play of the second half, coach (Robin) Pflugrad (UM’s wide receiver coach) grabbed me and said, ‘Go in,’ ” Wells reflected. “All of a sudden, I run in there and caught 12 passes and we made a valiant effort and came close to winning the game. And you know college sports, you get that one opportunity, and if you do well they trust you, and if you don’t they don’t. So that (game) was a catalyst and an exciting time for me, plus also having my brother there was special too.”
Wells had a career-high 14 receptions against Delaware in a 1993 home playoff game, while his 90-yard touchdown catch against Boise State in 1995 is the third longest in school history. He’s also ranked among UM’s career leaders in numerous other statistical categories.
As a senior, he was tabbed a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, and several other organizations, as well as to the Big Sky Conference.
He was the recipient of Montana’s Pat Norwood Award (Most Inspirational) in 1993 and 1994 and presented the Terry Dillon Award (Outstanding Back or Receiver) in 1995. In 1992, he was chosen the Grizzlies’ Outstanding Freshman.
He was a dynamic student at UM, as he was named a Division I GTE Division Academic All-American three times — in 1993, 1994 and 1995, and he was a four-time all-league academic selection.
He scored the Grizzlies’ only two touchdowns in their 22-20 national championship win at Marshall in 1995.
“Obviously, the championship game was a great memory,” Wells said. “I remember that it’s like we really, really jelled as a team in the first playoff game (a 48-0 home win over Eastern Kentucky). It was like all of a sudden, the defense was incredible. That championship had a lot do with the defense, and up until that point a (head coach) Don Read-coached team wasn’t really recognized for that.
“We blanked two teams (UM beat visiting Georgia Southern 45-0 after the EKU victory) and beat up on Stephen F. Austin (a 70-14 semifinal win in Missoula), and then it really didn’t seem fair to be going to play Marshall in the national championship game on their home field,” Wells said.
“But with the outcome and how it ended, it couldn’t have been better. To go in there as the underdogs. That was just an exciting game. Dave (Dickenson) was pretty banged up and he was getting hit a lot. It was a struggle. I remember (Mike) Erhardt’s catch, the touchdowns (Wells had TD grabs of 24 yards and one yard), and the field goal (Andy Larson’s 25-yard game-winner with 39 seconds left to play). Other than that, it’s kind of one big blur. It was awesome.”
Wells was previously inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame in September of 2005 as part of UM’s 1995 national title squad. Two other players from the national championship have previously been inducted independently into the GSHF, quarterback Dave Dickenson (2002) and Wells’ former college roommate, and wide receiver/punt returner Joe Douglass (2011).
Matt and his wife, Sarah, who is from Fort Benton, have three daughters: Hannah, 20, who attends the University of Missouri; Abby, 15; and Megan, 12.
Wells will be formally inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame at a banquet held at the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, the new presenting sponsor of the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame. The banquet will be held at the Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown this fall at a date and time to be determined.