Roy Exum: Saban Wows Bell’s School

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There was a funny story in the Sunday editions of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that bore the headline, “Nick Saban Makes People Cry,” and by Monday it appeared that fans of Alabama’s national championship football program may soon be the ones weeping with tears of joy. The Bleacher Report website predicted yesterday that Vonn Bell, the object of Saban’s affections, was leaning towards signing a scholarship with the Crimson Tide.

Bell, a delightful mainstay on a Ridgeland program that advanced to the finals of the Georgia Class 4-A state championship chase, is among the top-rated senior football players in the country and, as a 5-star defensive back, can literally join any college football program he wants.

It has long been believed his three finalists are Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee.

Up until now the humble high school All-American has been mum but the Bleacher Report claimed on Monday there is a 40 percent chance Bell will choose Alabama on National Signing Day, a 35 percent chance he will go to Ohio State and still a 25 percent chance he will join Tennessee and new coach Butch Jones. Bell was in Tuscaloosa on Saturday for the gala celebration for this season’s national champions.

The Atlanta story, written by the newspaper’s recruiting guru Michael Carvell, originated last week at Ridgeland High School in Rossville where the now-fabled Alabama head coach paid a personal visit to Bell earlier last week. “Yes, it was unbelievable,” Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said of the visit and confirmed Saban drew wide-eyed stares and the adoring tears of a rock star.

“It was a state of disbelief that Coach Saban was in our school. It was a frenzy. We had to strategically go down the hall at certain times, meeting teachers, and going from Point A to Point B. Coach Saban was as professional and classy, and handled it as well as anybody could’ve. I know he’s used to it,” the high school coach told Carvell.

“Once one kid or teacher saw him, the text messages and tweets started flying. The next thing you know, little heads are poking outside of classrooms. And it was hard to tell the kids not to come out and get autographs when the teachers were coming out and getting autographs,” Mariakis laughed, later explaining how he himself was thrilled when Saban spent time drawing the X’s and O’s of the game in the football office after winning a third national title in the past four years.

Saban, who is very much a hands-on head coach, works with the Crimson Tide secondary and, as he explained to Mariakis what he would do in certain defensive situations, he carefully told Bell what the responsibilities of a safety or a cornerback would be in different schemes. The Bleacher Report’s predictions may be true but Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is also a masterful recruiter and Bell has grown up as a Tennessee fan.

He and his family actually live in Ooltewah but Bell attends the Georgia school on a provision that allows a student whose parent teaches at a school the opportunity to attend there. Vonn’s mother is a guidance counselor at Ridgeland and he was even chosen as a member of the Journal-Constitution’s “Super 11” before it was discovered – too late – he lives in Tennessee instead of Georgia.

You must also remember there are two weeks left before athletes can sign binding letters of intent. Any commitments you read about are non-binding and, while some college programs respect a student-athlete’s right to make his choice early, others try mightily to get high school seniors to change their minds.

Alabama is having a sensational recruiting year, so much so that Alabama assistant coaches are now telling early commitments they will be “grey-shirts,” enrolling next January rather than being counted among this fall’s recruiting numbers. Obviously, this approach doesn’t sit well with some athletes and there is a greater chance they might decommit before Feb. 6.

According to the popular Bleacher Report, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Ga., was believed to be heading to Ole Miss, where his older brother Dexter now plays but, after a totally unexpected visit to Florida over the weekend, Nkemdiche said, “Really all schools are even for me right now. No school has been kicked down or anything, but I just have to see the other schools and compare them. Florida, Ole Miss and LSU are all battling for that top spot.”

According to the Rivals recruiting website, Florida is having the best year thus far and is followed by Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU. Rounding out the Top Ten are Michigan, Southern Cal, Texas  A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss.

But, again, there are still two weeks before National Signing Day and, as history has shown repeatedly, just about anything can happen between now and then.

Ridgeland's Vonn Bell
Ridgeland's Vonn Bell

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