Bell’s career at Virginia Tech appears to be over. After a long, hard week, and
in-depth conversations with running backs coach Billy Hite, Bell won’t suit up
for the Hokies this weekend, and he has to decide if he wants to continue to
play football on two bad knees. It looks like we’re very close to the end of a
too-short career for a phenomenal football player and person whose life was
drastically altered one day in his junior year in high school.
By now, you all know the story. At Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville,
NC, George Bell was a physical phenom who had speed and power. At the age of 14,
he had the body of a 19 or 20 year old, and when he played middle school
football, he had to carry his birth certificate with him to convince football
officials that he was young enough to play.
As a 195-pound freshman in high school, he ran for 1,100 yards behind a very
young and very bad offensive line, against the toughest competition in North
Carolina. His sophomore year was cut short by a wrist injury, but as his junior
year dawned, he was already a fixture on the recruiting scene and a budding
Then came a knee injury early in his junior year that derailed his career. On
a freak play similar to Bo Jackson’s career-ending injury, Bell tore completely
through his ACL and LCL, pulled his meniscus away from the bone, and partially
tore his MCL. That’s pretty much his whole knee, destroyed.
Fast-forward to now, Bell’s redshirt sophomore year at Virginia Tech, and it
appears that the knee can’t take anymore. Despite four years of hard rehab, four
years of sweating and working and hoping against all hope, George Bell might be
at the end of the road. He appeared to be struggling, and then this post
appeared on the TSL football board last night:
Subject: For what it’s worth, I stopped by practice about 30 minutes
Posted by: BAHokie on Thu Sep 14 2006 5:54:47 PM
Message: Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but in between
practice periods, George Bell went up to Coach Hite and talked for 3-4
minutes. After that Coach Hite shook his hand, patted him on the back, and
Bell walked off the practice field. Again, maybe I’m looking too far into
this, but considering his situation, it came across my mind that he might be
considering leaving the VT football program…
In an emotional Beamerball.com update later that night, Billy Hite said that
Bell’s knees are bothering him — both of them, the rehabbed one and the
“good” one — that he can barely straighten one of them out, and that
he can’t run with speed and power anymore. Hite talked with sadness about how he
had to meet with Bell this week and tell him that Virginia Tech had to “go
in another direction.” Redshirt Kenny Lewis has been moved up from the
scout team and will dress for this game, while Bell will sit out.
In what must have been an agonizing decision for Hite, it appears that
Virginia Tech will move on. There’s very little chance Bell will stay with the
Hokies, because Hite’s statements on Beamerball.com were pretty definitive. He
advised Bell, who has no shot at an NFL career due to his bad knee, to give up
football and get his degree.
We always knew it might come to this. George Bell has always been defined by
that knee, a knee that we knew might not stand up to the pounding of major
college football, and which might require him to simply stop one day, put the
pads and helmet down, and walk away.
I have written a thousand articles that I have forgotten about, but I vividly
remember interviewing George the day before he left for Virginia Tech in January
of 2004. He was eerily mature for an 18-year old. He described his thought
process when he went down with that knee injury in the fall of 2002, how he
accepted his fate and just went to work, believing that all it would take to
restore him to playing form was time and hard work.
“I cried,” Bell told me in that interview, “but I knew in my
mind that a lot of people had this, and I knew rehab was going to come. I just
knew if I rehabbed it, that I could come back. I had the faith that I was going
to be okay.”
I could tell that George Bell had a long view of the world. George wasn’t
caught up in today, like most young people. He knew how things worked, that
sometimes you were on top of the world, and sometimes it was on top of you. When
the world fell on him, George Bell never hesitated. He picked it up and carried
it, ready to do so for as long as he needed.
thing about George,” his high school coach, Richard Bailey, told me,
“he never doubted himself. Athletically, he never doubts himself. He was
like, ‘Coach, I’m going to come back. I will be back.’ You never heard him
question that he was going to come back.”
But four years later, George Bell is faced with the idea that he can’t
make it back.
I hate this. I don’t think I’ve ever rooted harder for a player than I have
for the quiet, determined Bell. But in the back of my mind, because of the
things I had read and heard over the years, I knew it was more likely that he
would never be able to reach his full potential, because of that knee.
We saw flashes of hope. In 2005, Bell scored his first college TD against
Duke. He scored again against Marshall, and against Virginia, he dominated the
Cavaliers in the late going with 12 carries for 74 yards. There were days when
Bell looked strong and agile, and days where he appeared to be laboring a bit,
but he was making progress.
It now looks as if the 2005 UVa game will be the high point of George Bell’s
Virginia Tech career, which is a shame. Maybe he’ll make an amazing comeback,
but it doesn’t seem likely. The only decision Bell has to make is whether he
wants to stay at VT and get his degree, or transfer and try to play somewhere
else. If you’re wondering, his major at Virginia Tech is Human Development,
which is somewhat ironic, given that he is one of the more developed humans,
physically and emotionally, that you’ll ever meet.
A few paragraphs from the recruiting profile that I wrote on George over two
and a half years ago come back to haunt George and his many fans:
… after interviewing Bell and his coach, Richard Bailey, the day before
Bell departed Fayetteville for Virginia Tech in January, I know a few things
about George Bell at this point. Number one, Bell is ready for the challenge.
Number two, he has the temperament and work ethic.
Number three, there’s that knee.
It’s the fall of 2006, and we now know that barring something miraculous,
despite Bell’s readiness for the challenge, and despite his temperament and work
ethic, the knee has won. A couple of decades from now, I hope that football will
be a distant memory for George Bell, and I hope that he’ll no longer be defined
by that knee, but by his determination and work ethic. Those traits couldn’t
save his football career, but they’ll serve him well the rest of his life.