Former UCI basketball player Darren Fells has signed a three-year contract to play tight end for the Seattle Seahawks.
For the first time in UC Irvine history, an Anteater has signed with a National Football League (NFL) franchise. Darren Fells, a 2008 graduate who played for four seasons on the UCI men’s basketball team, signed a three-year contract to play tight end for the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday, March 5 — within an hour of his first professional tryout. Coming from UCI, a school without a football program, Fells is a rarity.
Notable NFL All-Stars Tony Gonzalez (California), Jimmy Graham (Miami) and Antonio Gates (Kent State), all tight ends, have paved a path for Fells as former college basketball players who made their mark as tight ends in the NFL. But Fells, a 6’7, 280-pound tight end from UCI, didn’t play at an institution that featured a Division I football program.
“[Gonzalez, Graham and Gates] are all great players, but I’d like to make a name for myself,” Fells said during a phone interview last Friday. “I want to be the Michael Jordan of football.”
After having an all-state season as a tight end at Fullerton High School in 2004, Fells decided to play collegiate basketball at UC Irvine, passing up football offers from Washington, UCLA and ASU. His brother, Daniel, is a backup tight end for the New England Patriots.
Last Tuesday, Fells showcased his skill set in Washington, in front of a handful of Seahawks coaches, which was arranged by Daniel’s agent, who is now employed by Fells.
“I went for a tryout and left the exact same day with a contract. Surreal is the word — extremely surreal,” Fells said. “Teams wanted to take a look at me based on my size alone, as a 6’7, 280-pound ex-basketball player. [The Seahawks] had me run some routes and they threw me a few passes. I had been working out as a defensive end, but I guess they liked what they saw at tight end.”
A three-year contract was signed at 2:10 p.m. and then Fells had to catch a 2:40 p.m. flight home to John Wayne Airport. On the way to the airport, Fells only had enough time to talk to his girlfriend for two minutes. By the time his flight landed in Orange County, word had spread like wildfire — he had 30 voicemails.
“It’s been pretty hectic. My phone has not stopped ringing. The Facebook comments have been nonstop,” Fells said. “But I still have a lot of time until the season starts. I don’t think anything is accomplished yet.”
At 26 years old, Fells has played professional basketball in Argentina, Mexico, France, Finland and Belgium since graduating from UCI with a degree in sociology. Fells was named to the All-Big West Tournament team as a senior, averaging 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in UCI’s four-game run that ended in an 81-66 loss to Cal State Fullerton in the 2008 Big West Championship game. In his last game as an Anteater, Fells scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 16th career double-double.
Last year, Fells averaged 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for Obras Sanitarias Buenos Aires basketball team in Argentina.
“[Ever since switching my focus to football], I’ve never really thought about not making it. I’m always fighting,” Fells said.
“If things didn’t work out, though, I wanted to open an international restaurant, using all of the culinary foods that I’ve had [in Belgium, Argentina, Mexico, France and Finland].”
At Fullerton High School, Fells was 6’6, 260 pounds as a senior, playing tight end and defensive end. As a junior in high school, Fells recorded 12 sacks.
“I towered over everybody in high school,” he said.
Nine years later, Fells is expecting to be a project under the tutelage of Head Coach Pete Carroll, and hopes to surpass his brother in the NFL someday soon. Daniel Fells, three years older than his brother, caught four passes from Tom Brady as a backup to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2012.
“My brother has been one of my biggest inspirations. I talk with him weekly about what he did to make it. He always tells me, ‘You do you. Go 110 percent every day.’ I just got done working out in the gym,” Fells said.
“I’m working out six days a week. I haven’t [accomplished] anything yet. I still have to make the roster.”
Fells is currently training in Carson, California at Athletes’ Performance — an institution that trained Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III and three players from the Super Bowl Champions Baltimore Ravens last year. He is expected to attend open training camp practices for the Seahawks beginning on July 28.
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