Vonn Bell’s list of football scholarship offers grew by one Thursday, and it was the one he had been waiting on for some time.
Less than 24 hours after being given an offer over the phone by Alabama coach Nick Saban, the Ridgeland High School junior safety took another call that included an offer early Thursday afternoon, this time from Tennessee coach Derek Dooley.
“It was very exciting to get to talk to Coach Dooley,” Bell said. “It was kind of a relief to know that they want me to play for them. It’s like what every kid growing up playing football dreams of, to get offers like that.
“Coach Dooley just said that they would love to see me in orange and really want me to come play for them. I kept telling myself while he was talking to just stay calm and wait and see what happens. I’ll take a tour of the campus with my parents and get to know the coaches now and see how we feel after that. I just want to make sure I’m comfortable with everything before I make any commitments to anybody.”
Bell, who admitted he grew up a Tennessee fan, received an offer from Georgia in mid-January.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety, who has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had 119 tackles, five interceptions and three caused fumbles this past season, and he returned three of his recovered fumbles for touchdowns. He also had 487 receiving yards and six TDs on offense.
Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said Dooley made reference to the Times Free Press story reporting Bell’s offer from Saban.
“He said they had gotten a ton of calls and emails wondering why they hadn’t already offered a kid who likes UT and was getting offers from their rivals,” Mariakis said. “He explained how busy they had been with the recruiting class they just finished with, and I know it had to be tough after the assistant coaches he had replaced, plus trying to work with this year’s signees.
“It wasn’t a big deal — we just wanted to know if they were interested — and Coach Dooley made it very clear over the phone to Vonn that they really want him. I think that meant a lot to the kid. You could kind of tell he was relieved — elated, really. But I’ve advised Vonn that he’s got plenty of time to make visits and get to know all the coaches, so instead of making an emotional choice, wait a little bit and make an informed decision.”
Mariakis, who has former players currently on the rosters at Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Oklahoma State among other programs, said this is the earliest in the recruiting process that any of his players have gotten this much attention.
“Even Mike Bowman, who had 22 offers by the time he signed with Alabama, didn’t start getting offers until late May before his senior year,” Mariakis said. “But Vonn is such a no-brainer. There were highlights of 55 plays on the DVD we sent out to college coaches, and every one of those plays will make your jaw drop.
“They see his speed and ability to tackle and the way he’s always around the ball and they realize he has a lot of things that are just hard to coach. There are no red flags for him. He’s going to qualify academically and is a good kid, and this is only the beginning of what will be a crazy process for him.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...