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.

royexum@aol.com

Ridgeland's Vonn Bell
Ridgeland's Vonn Bell

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

A New Way To Stop The Poverty Education Cycle

For more years then proud to talk I have watched, sometimes up close and very personal, the plight and future of so many kids.  Mostly black and a few others this group was destined not to greatness or success, but to a life of food stamps, welfare, poor education and poorer still educational prospects.  So often in my own work I would see and feel the excitement of the ... (click for more)

Additions And Improvements At Camp Jordan Arena Coming Soon

Additions and improvements are coming to Camp Jordan Arena in the near future. At the Thursday night meeting of the East Ridge city council, approval was given for buying new playground equipment. It will come from Gametime, a locally-based company. The VP of Marketing lives in East Ridge and made a proposal to set up the playground at Camp Jordan so his company could use it for ... (click for more)

Tribute Service For Luther Masingill Held At Historic Engel Stadium

It took a place as big as historic Engel Stadium for Chattanooga to say goodbye to their beloved Luther. Hundreds came Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to Luther Masingill who died early Monday morning after a radio career that spanned an amazing 74 years. It was clear from all who spoke that he was considered not only a radio personality, but also a role model. One after ... (click for more)

Notre Dame Claims Region 4A/AA Soccer Title

Junior Sofia Olenchek scored twice, including the winning goal in the second overtime (95th minute) period as host Notre Dame defeated crosstown rival Chattanooga Christian 2-1, for the Region 4 A-AA championship Thursday night. In a well-played, physical match, CCS led at halftime, 1-0,  after senior Hannah Henry scored in the 14th minute, but Olenchek's first goal ... (click for more)

Baylor Beats Briarcrest For Shot At Father Ryan, DII-AA State Volleyball Title

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – OK, Father Ryan.  Baylor’s still hanging around. The Lady Red Raiders stormed past Briarcrest, 3-1, Thursday in the loser’s bracket final at Siegel Middle School and advanced to Friday’s Division II-AA volleyball tournament championship match. The set scores were 26-24, 25-15, 24-26, 25-15. The Lady Red Raiders lost to Father Ryan, ... (click for more)