published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Hargis: Vonn Bell's visits, attention covering entire nation

  • photo
    In this file photo, Vonn Bell from Ridgeland High School poses in the Times Free Press studio.
    Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

While other high school students made their way to the beach for a week of sun and fun, or simply relaxed around the house, Vonn Bell and his parents headed west for a “business trip.”

During spring break, Ridgeland High School’s four-star football safety prospect and his family made campus visits to the University of Texas, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Notre Dame and Ohio State, all of which have made scholarship offers. Bell seems to get at least one new offer with each passing day, the list having grown to 27 since February when Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee extended offers in that order.

“Me and my family just wanted to get out and see the differences at schools in other conferences besides the SEC,” Bell said. “I’ve been to a lot of SEC schools, so I know what it’s like there. It was nice to travel and meet with Coach [Mack] Brown at Texas and Coach [Urban] Meyer at Ohio State. I wanted to watch how those staffs interacted with the players and see how they would talk with my parents. I’m trying to get a feel for the people and the places wherever I visit, so I’ll know where I feel most comfortable when it comes time to decide.

“At this point in my life, all of these visits I take are business trips. I’m planning to cut my list down to five or six by the end of spring, and that’s going to be tough. So I felt like I had to meet as many coaches and see as many campuses as possible before I start cutting the list.”

He has offers from 12 of the 14 SEC programs (only LSU and Texas A&M haven’t made offers yet) as well as from Clemson, Virginia Tech, UCLA and Southern California. Florida coaches were on the Ridgeland campus last Monday, and USC assistant and former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin visited this past week as well — after head coach Lane Kiffin saw just two plays of a highlight DVD and decided Bell was one of the few players outside of California the Trojans would pursue.

“I’ve lost count on the number of calls and visits, and the offers are pretty much coming in daily now,” Panthers coach Mark Mariakis said. “We’ve sent quite a few kids to some big-time programs, but I’ve never seen anything like this. For Vonn to get this much attention this early in the recruiting process says a lot about his ability. He’s just going to keep moving up those recruiting boards all summer.”

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bell was the nation’s No. 60 overall prospect in the first ESPN recruiting rankings for the year, and he is likely to move up a notch to Rivals.com  ’s highest prospect ranking of five stars, becoming the first area player to earn that honor since former Calhoun and current Tennessee All-SEC receiver Da’Rick Rogers two years ago.

It was 10 years ago this summer that Red Bank star Gerald Riggs Jr. was a five-star prospect, rated by some recruiting services as the nation’s top prep running back. Looking back on his own experience and what he learned through the process, Riggs said the best way for Bell to handle all the attention is to continue doing exactly what he is now.

“He seems like a pretty level-headed kid, and he’s going about it the right way in treating it like a business decision,” Riggs said. “It’s easy for a teenager to get caught up in what the coaches they see on TV tell them. They will sell him the dream, but he just needs to look past some of that and figure out what feels right for him, because if you’re not happy where you choose to live and go to school for four years, it can become a miserable place. I knew guys who didn’t think things through and then regretted their decision to go to a certain school.

“The main thing is to just enjoy it all. This is an experience that will never happen again in your life. I tell all recruits to just be smart about it: Think things through completely, but have fun with it, too.”

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having 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, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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