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May 19, 2003

Bell Toiling To Return, Part II

Bell Toiling To Return, Part II


Click here for Part I of this article. Thanks.


While Bell's injury raised serious questions about his return to the gridiron as a senior, it also cast a cloud of doubt over his chances to someday take his talents to the collegiate level.

NC State stuck by its scholarship offer, and have since been joined by East Carolina and Maryland as schools who feel Bell's potential is too tempting to pass on. Those three have also emerged as the colleges highest on Bell’s list of favorites.

"I've got to look at the schools that offered me a scholarship first, and that's NC State, East Carolina and Maryland," said Bell. "All three of those are saying I don't have to play any high school games. I can just go up there and rehab my knee if I'm not ready. So those are really the top three, because they've offered me a scholarship."

That doesn't mean other schools aren't in the running -- Bell has mentioned Miami, Tennessee, Georgia and Michigan prominently in recent interviews. In fact, schools from as far away as California have recently inquired about the rising senior's talent.

"USC and UCLA got some film of me and they were impressed, so they said they were going to start sending me some stuff," said Bell.

Of those traditional powers, Tennessee was a school of particular interest to Bell, and one he grew up following as a child. He adorned his room in Volunteer orange and, had UT offered a scholarship in the early-going, could've made his college decision a rather easy one.

"At first, they were like No. 1 on my list," Bell said. "I guess it's a business, though, and I'm not going to do anything for them right now because there are running backs out there that are healthy. But I understand why they're not recruiting me as hard right now."

The NC State coaching staff, hoping to overtake Bell's childhood connection with Tennessee, supposedly promised to send him enough letters on red paper to cover all the orange in his room. So far that strategy appears to be working.

"They've sent me a lot of red paper," Bell chuckled. "I haven't put it up on my walls yet. I've just got them laying around right now."

The red paper is a nice touch, but the Wolfpack's loyalty and willingness to stick with Bell despite the injury are the biggest reasons for where State stands in the youngster’s eyes. Schools from around the country now find themselves chasing the Pack for Bell's commitment, thanks to the dogged work of quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Curt Cignetti.

"Right now, State is No. 1," Bell said. "I like them because they're on the rise and they've got a lot of good recruits coming in. So State is definitely No. 1.

“Plus, it's a nice place to live. On top of that, I really like the coaches at State. They're really energetic and my type of coaches."

One pitch that Bell can expect to hear time and again from schools competing for his signature is the rushing success of McLendon, and the Pack's signing of running backs Brian Dennison and Darrell Blackman. However, as the vast majority of the nation's top prospects are prone to say, competition isn't something that Bell is planning to back down from.

"Of course I've got to look at that [State's depth]," Bell said. "It's not going to make a big difference, though, because they're going to play the best players.

"If I get there and I'm ready, then I feel like I'm going to be the best player out there. Even with Blackman and the other running back [Dennison], I'm sure that I'll stand out more than they would because I feel like I'm bigger and faster than they are. But I understand [that], when I get there, T.A. will be a junior, so I'm sure they'll want to play him -- but I still feel like I can become the best one out there."

In the coming months, Bell said that recruiting will be a sidebar to what is most important to him, so a final decision on a future college could be months down the road.

"Right now, I'm not really thinking about college or which school I'm going to go to," said Bell. "I'm thinking mostly about getting my ACT score and graduating high school first."

No doubt he'll also be thinking about the day he steps back out on the football field and recounts the long, bumpy road it will have taken to get there.

In his mind, it's not a question of if he will return -- but when.

"I was disappointed when I got hurt, but I knew, down the road, that it would get better,” he said. “You can ask the people who were with me when it happened: I wasn't excited or anything, but I did have a good attitude about it. I haven't had any doubts about being 100 percent again."




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