NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Wes Chandler
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
Wes Chandler was so agreeable that when the coaches asked him to play running back his senior year at Florida in 1977, he accepted it and didn’t think much about it. After all, he played running back at only 140 pounds at New Smyrna Beach High School on the central East Coast of Florida. This was just another step on the trail on what would become a Hall of Fame career.
“I was a good running back, not a great one,” Chandler said of his high school days. “I had more open-field ability than that of a power back or between the tackles. I had no fear, but I just wasn’t very big.” His return to running back as a Gator was punctuated by the fact Florida was loaded with skilled players at wide receiver and other positions by the time he was a senior.
“The coaches figured if we can’t throw it to you, let’s hand it to you to get the ball in your hands,” said Chandler, who had 353 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns as a senior. “So to move back to running back was a surprise, but I was willing to do whatever it took to help us win. This also gave me a chance to show my skill level. I was a kick returner and punt returner and had played running back before. So let’s roll!”
For his first three collegiate seasons, as a split end at Florida, albeit in the wishbone offense under Hall of Fame Coach Doug Dickey, he developed a “fluid and graceful style,” which he patterned after the Miami Dolphins’ Paul Warfield. During his college career, Chandler caught 92 passes for 1,963 yards and 22 receiving touchdowns.
“You know that your touches are going to be limited,” Chandler said. “And you know that you’re running the wishbone because that is your strength. And for me, I knew I had to make the most of the opportunities that came my way. When the ball was in the air, it was mine. That was my mentality.”
Doubling as a punt returner-kick returner at Florida, he was able to showcase his speed and moves, and professional scouts took notice, which led to his ability to eventually fashion an 11- year professional career with three different teams: New Orleans, San Diego and San Francisco.
“I was a very good returner mainly because I had those—the boy who lived in the Projects-- moves,” Chandler said. “It was a thrill to put the moves on a player and fake them out of their shoes. So I would be back there thinking how many I could shake down with God’s gift (he had).”
The payoff game as a senior was against arch-rival Georgia in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs had beaten Florida in each of Chandler’s first three seasons, including a 41-27 victory the previous season that had cost the Gators an SEC title. Chandler put it altogether this time in a 22-17 Florida win. He actually outscored Georgia, 18-17, with all three Florida touchdowns in the game.
A four-time Pro Bowl Selection during his playing days, Chandler has coached in the professional and collegiate ranks, and he currently works as a receivers coach at Football University, a series of educational football camps that are held across the country.
Above: Wes Chandler patterned his style after the Miami Dolphins' Paul Warfield. (Courtesy UAA Communications)