When Darren Fells believed his basketball career had reached the end of the line, he merely sprinted up the seam.
The former UC Irvine basketball standout who earned second-team All-Big West Conference honors and led the conference in field-goal percentage as a senior in 2006-07, spent four years in professional basketball, playing for teams in Belgium, Finland, France, Mexico and most recently, last season, in Argentina.
But the 6-foot-7, 275-pounder, who was an All-CIF Southern Section tight end at Fullerton High and turned down football scholarship offers from then-Pac-10 schools to play hoops at UCI, said his dribble began to lose its drive.
So, answering critics who had chirped since he left football behind as a prep, and with the guidance of younger brother Daniel Fells, who is a tight end for the New England Patriots, Darren Fells elected to give football a try.
After months of training, he landed a tryout in March with the Seattle Seahawks, who were so impressed that they reportedly signed him to three-year contract at $495,000 per year.
Fells was released on May 8, then resigned by the Seahawks 12 days later and he is currently bidding to make the 53-man roster at the team's training camp in Renton, Wash.
"I felt like with basketball, something was missing," said Fells, who averaged 14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and shot nearly 57% from the field as a senior to help lead the Anteaters to the title game of the conference tournament. "The enjoyment, or whatever, wasn't there anymore. I talked to [Daniel] and he said, 'Why don't you give football a try?'"
Fells, reached by phone at the Seahawks' facility, said he spent 10 months training with his brother and on his own, then spent two months in a more organized regimen at a training center in Carson to ready himself for a potential run at a football contract.
"Coming out of high school, pretty much everybody I knew told me I made a big mistake by taking a basketball scholarship over football," Fells said. "I had always had a love for basketball, but as time went by, I questioned myself whether or not I wanted to keep playing [basketball]. Football was always a lingering thought in my mind."
Fells, who also played defensive end in high school, said the Seahawks' initial interest in him was at that position. But after doing some defensive drills, they took a look at him at tight end and elected to take a chance on finding another former college basketball player who had flourished at the position in the NFL.
Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers via Ball State), Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons via Cal) and Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints via the University of Miami) have become star NFL tight ends after distinguishing themselves on their respective college basketball teams.
Fells, wearing jersey No. 88 in Seattle, is currently not on the four-player depth chart at his position listed on the team's website. But with No. 2 tight end Anthony McCoy out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and heralded starter Zach Miller coming off a torn plantar fascia over the off-season, Fells believes he has a real chance to make the team.
That opportunity took an unfortunate turn in the first week of training camp, when Fells pulled a groin muscle during the first day of full pads and has been sidelined since. His injury will prevent him from making the trip when the Seahawks open the preseason on Thursday in San Diego against the Chargers.
"I've been rehabbing, doing strengthening workouts and conditioning and I'm also out there catching some balls with the quarterbacks," Fells said of his time on the sideline. "I'm going to miss out on that first game [Thursday], but I think I will make my appearance next week [Aug. 17 at home against the Denver Broncos]. I'm going to come back stronger and even more hungry."
Fells, a rare 27-year-old rookie, said he is enjoying his training camp experience, as well as the transition from basketball to football.
"It's definitely a tough transition, but I'm getting the hang of it," Fells said of football, the physical aspect of which he relishes.
"I've always been a physical guy," Fells said. "Growing up with three brothers, we'd always wrestle each other. And I always excelled as a physical player in basketball."
Fells said he is anxious to get back on the field to try to make an impression, as cuts are looming for all unproven players in camp.
"I am enjoying every minute of it, but it's obviously nerve wracking not knowing whether or not you are going to be here tomorrow," he said. "But I'm going to try my best every single day and do whatever I can to make that decision tough on them."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun