Bell leading with his head

City senior wide receiver Sheldon Bell puts academics first, and his dedication has paid off with a full scholarship to Duke.


Sheldon Bell is an athlete whose emphasis on academics is evident in his decisions.

"I was almost like an only child. My two brothers and two sisters were all older and didn't grow up living with me. I've always had this sense of independence," Bell said. "I don't go to a whole lot of parties, don't hang out with too many people. I generally do not follow the crowd."

So when it was time to choose a high school for his freshman year, and several of Bell's former teammates on his Northwood Pop Warner national championship team elected to attend Dunbar, it came as no surprise to one of Bell's youth league coaches that he selected City College.

"Sheldon has always been grounded, focused on what he wanted, and always thought that his academics were the most important thing," said Travis Blackston, a former Northwood coach who assists Ben Eaton at Dunbar. "I think the main reason he chose to go to City is that he felt that the curriculum there is a little more challenging to him. It's been hard coaching against him. We'd love to have him."

Four years later, Bell's decision has paid off. After a football season in which the 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver caught 38 passes for 713 yards and 10 touchdowns, Bell has accepted a full scholarship to play for Duke University next fall.

Bell said he had considered Maryland until the Terps' recruiter, Bill O'Brien, targeting him transferred to Duke.

"When he left Maryland, he sent me a postcard and told me to call him. I sent him a [highlight tape] and he offered me a scholarship, which I accepted in early April," Bell said.

"Maryland wanted me to come to their camp and run a 4.5 [40-yard dash] before they offered me," said Bell, whose 40-yard dash time is 4.6 seconds. "But at no time did Duke ask me about my 40 time. They said I had good hands, body control, things like that."

Duke kept its faith in Bell, and now Bell is maintaining his allegiance to the Blue Devils - even as other programs have attempted to change his mind.

`The Cincinnati coach said he was going to offer. The UConn coach said he was going to offer. The Boston College coach is still trying to work something out where he can make an offer," said Bell, a 4.0 student who will major in computer science.

"When you look at Boston College, they're winning and people are probably wondering, `Why is he going to Duke?' But you have to look at the bigger picture," Bell said. "If one day I make it to the NFL, great. But I could get hurt on the first play and never play again. On the other hand, a degree from Duke could open a lot of doors. That's why I'm 100 percent locked on being there."

Likewise, Bell, who turns 17 next Wednesday, said he doesn't regret choosing City over Dunbar and his other top consideration, Poly - even after Blackston and his former Northwood teammates celebrated winning the Class 1A state title at Dunbar while City failed to qualify for the Class 2A playoffs.

`They're my friends over there at Dunbar, and they won a championship and they're winning, but I got a scholarship to a Division I school, so I'm accomplishing my goals," Bell said. "I was always confident in my decision."

But that doesn't make being the Knights' go-to player any easier for Bell, the most talented and targeted of City's 12 returning starters. A recent loss to Dunbar offered an example of that attention, when the senior was double- and triple-teamed.

"It was pretty tough," Bell said. "One cornerback was playing up on me and playing bump and run, and the safety and the linebacker were cheating over."

The good news is that Bell caught every pass thrown to him that day by freshman quarterback Ellis Foster. The bad news is that Bell finished with just two receptions for 30 yards. In two games, he has six receptions, including a 39-yard touchdown.

"I try never to put my head down in a game because we have a young team, and I realize that everybody's looking up to me," Bell said. "If I lose my cool and go crazy in the huddle, that's not setting the best example. I have to stay cool so everyone else does. I have to keep my head, no matter how bad it gets."

Bell's value isn't limited to his leadership and offense. "He's also our best defensive back, so we count on him as much for defense as we do offense," City coach George Petrides said.

"Sheldon had a nice interception against Lake Clifton in our first game, and he's always playing the other team's No. 1 receiver," Petrides said. "I'm sure he'd like to have the ball thrown to him more often - any receiver would - but he's continued to be a leader on our team and never lets anything get him down."

Bell knows patience will go a long way toward helping the Knights achieve success, and toward aiding the development of Foster, who was under constant pressure by the Poets.

"In practice, we can devise things for me, but I realize that in a game, the way the coverages can go are often 100 percent different and that it can be tough for him to make the right reads," Bell said. "We're a young team, and once everyone starts learning their roles, we'll start clicking. I believe that in the end, it will work out, and that we'll have a successful season."

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