After a junior campaign that saw him rack up 180 total tackles, five interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns, opposing offenses had a new strategy for dealing with Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell during the 2012 season — try and avoid him.
Teams rarely threw or ran in Bell’s direction this past fall, hoping to neutralize the senior standout’s production by reducing him to more of an on-field spectator.
And that’s what makes Bell’s 2012 numbers even more amazing.
Defying opposing teams’ well-conceived game plans, Bell still went out and got credit for 142 tackles, including 89 head-knocking solo ones and five for loss. He added five pass break-ups, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder is the most decorated player in Ridgeland history, and today, he adds to his star-studded resume as the Walker County Defensive Football Player of the Year.
Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis said just having Bell on the field made his entire defense better.
“Just the presence of a player like Vonn gives you an advantage,” he explained. “No one really threw or ran his way this season, but that gave the other guys on the defense chances to make plays, which they did.”
Bell helped led the Panthers to the best season in school history — a 13-2 campaign, another region title, and the school’s first-ever state football championship game berth.
“It was an exciting year, and a big-time, enjoyable year for us to make it all the way to the state (finals),” Bell said. “But this year just wasn’t about me. It was about our team and accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves.”
Bell also played a little offense too, collecting 2,166 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns as he split his time at running back, wide receiver, and return specialist.
“He’s the most productive player I’ve ever had in my 28 years of coaching,” Mariakis added. “We’ve had dominant players on offense and dominant players on defense, but not one just dominant on both sides of the ball like Vonn. He’s a game-changer no matter which side he lines up on, and teams have to gameplan for him.”
Bell has done his part to cement Ridgeland as a recruiting hotbed for college coaches. A five-star prospect by Scout.com, Rivals.com, and 247Sports.com, and a four-star pick by ESPN.com, he is a consensus Top 50 prospect nationally, and a consensus pick as one of the nation’s top five safeties.
The overall Player of the Year for Region 7-AAAA, he was also named first team All-State by the Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year by the AJC, and he recently showcased his talents to rave reviews at the Under Armour All-American Game in Florida.
“It’s every kid’s dream to go out and be All-State and All-American, and I got to live that,” Bell explained. “I was very honored to play in the All-American Game. It was great to meet all the players and coaches, and it was a really good experience. I’m very happy for the opportunity to show everyone that we can play some football down here in Rossville. This whole year’s just been one big happy memory.”
A yearlong competition for Bell’s signature will finally come to an end next Wednesday when Bell is expected to to choose between Alabama, Ohio State, and Tennessee on National Signing Day, which will be televised by ESPNU.
"He's obviously one of the best players in the country, and he understands that, but he’s also very humbled by all the attention,” Mariakis added. “His success, and the success of the others in our program, has benefited everyone in our program and everyone in our school. It was a blessed season for all of us.”
THE REST OF THE WALKER COUNTY FOOTBALL DREAM TEAM DEFENSE
DL - Gannon Hampton (Ridgeland) - The All-State first team offensive lineman also starred on the defensive side of the ball with 88 tackles, 23 for loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.
DL - Corey Jewell (Gordon Lee) - The senior pass-rushing specialist collected nine sacks to go with 43 solo tackles and 27 assists for the playoff-bound Trojans.
DL - Will Mefford (LaFayette) - The senior capped a solid prep career in Orange-and-Black, collecting 72 solo tackles and assisting on 58 more while a dozen of his tackles this fall went for a loss.
DL - Randall Smith (Gordon Lee) - The senior teamed up with Jewell to form a physical one-two punch off the end as he finished with 100 tackles, four sacks, and a fumble recovery.
LB - Bryce Bailey (Gordon Lee) - The Defensive Player of the Year in Region 6-A North and the All-State Honorable Mention pick racked up 188 tackles, including 125 solo, while adding three sacks, three forced fumbles, and four pass break-ups.
LB - Sam Lemons (LaFayette) - The junior quietly put together big numbers for the Ramblers in 2012 with 102 solo tackles, 55 assists, and five tackles for loss.
LB - Daniel Johnson (Ridgeland) - The senior and Wendy's National High School Heisman finalist more than proved his worth with 36 solo tackles, 51 assists, seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, while seeing spot duty along the offensive line.
LB - Trey Stubbs (Ridgeland) - The junior was all over the field, recording 41 solo tackles, 27 assists, 13 tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a pass break-up.
LB - DeAngelo Smith (Ridgeland) - The junior turned in another outstanding campaign for the state finalists, picking up 66 solo tackles, 65 assists, 14 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one pick, and one pass break-up.
LB - Zach Weathers (Ridgeland) - The sophomore added depth to an outstanding group of Panther linebackers with 47 solo tackles, 31 assists, 10 tackles for loss, six broken-up passes, two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception.
DB - Zack Cobb (Gordon Lee) - A star on the offensive side of the ball, the junior was also a standout in the secondary, recording 52 tackles, a forced fumble, and two interceptions to go with seven pass break-ups.
DB - Cody Dallas (LaFayette) - The senior was named to the All-Region team for 7-AAAA as a defensive back, while doubling as a standout running back with over 800 yards on the ground.
DB - Dillon Peterman (Ridgeland) - The junior made the most of his chances in the defensive backfield in 2012, collecting 76 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery, while picking off five passes and breaking up four more.
DB - Sharone Porter (Ridgeland) - The senior was johnny-on-the-spot with 75 tackles, five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, and one enormous blocked extra point in a 28-27 Class AAAA state semifinal win over Marist.