Maryland secured a commitment from four-star Bridgeton (N.J.) safety Markquese Bell Jan. 1, and afterwards we spoke to his head coach, Dave Ellen, to gain more insight into the 6-foot-2, 201-pounder.
Terrapin Times: Coach, from what I understand you’re down there in Florida with Markquese at the Under Armour All-American game. How’s that experience been for you, Markquese and his family? Have you ever had a player at the game before?
Dave Ellen: Yeah, that’s never happened before for me (laughs). I’ve been at Bridgeton for 29 years and have never had one. But it’s just exciting for the town, and especially Markquese and his family. But, really, Markquese is a really easy-going kind. The commitment part of it, I think Markquese was more excited about playing in the game and being in the atmosphere down here. He had a lot of fun and I think he and his family really enjoyed themselves.
But the actual commitment part was a big relief for him. The whole recruiting process is behind him now, and it’s been long for him. He’s been involved in the process since his sophomore year, and it was a strain on him and his family. But it’s over now, and we’re all proud of him.
TT: Speaking of that process, Markquese’s recruitment took a lot of twists and turns. He had so many different leaderboards the last year or so, and so many schools on him and them off him after they filled up spots. How was that for him to deal with?
DE: Yeah, that did happen. But Markquese, he’s a bright kind and he does his homework on schools. He looks into players, their years, who’s going to be gone – which is good, that’s what you want kids to do.
But we went on some unofficials to like Clemson, Ohio State, Maryland, and he went on others by himself. And I think what attracted him to Maryland over some other places was the family feel he got there. We both definitely felt that with Maryland. Coach [D.J.] Durkin is a great coach, and we really loved his staff. Markquese was just really comfortable there and felt at home.
TT: Coach, when did you get the feel Markquese was going to Maryland? I mean, the Jan. 1 commitment wasn’t a surprise; Markquese told the UMD coaches he was coming a couple weeks before that. But when did you get the sense he was leaning to the Terps?
DE: When we went down there for the fist time [in March] I just could tell it would be a good fit, and I think he really enjoyed himself there. Much like Clemson, there was a real family feel there. The Maryland coaches really treated Markquese and his family well. They sat down with them, showed them everything and really related to them. You don’t get that on every visit you go on, so that spoke volumes and Maryland and the coaches there.
So that [relationship] was a big key, and with my kids I always want them to go somewhere where they’re comfortable and the coaches care about you. And that’s how Markquese felt about Maryland – a real comfort feel.
TT: Shifting gears here, as a player, what does Markquese bring to the table?
DE: He’s a dynamic, athletic player on both sides of the ball, and he can play special teams too. He’s played safety, corner, tailback, receiver, fullback, tight end and he’s even our kicker. He’s a very cerebral player and has a high football IQ, and he’s just a playmaker. No matter where we put Markquese, he went out and made plays and had an impact on the game.
TT: Markquese is going to play safety at Maryland, though. What does he bring specifically from that spot?
DE: Well, honestly, I think he’s a hybrid kid, and I think he can match up well at different spots. He can man up wideouts, he can line up over the slot or tight end, and his biggest asset is he can run the alley and come down hill pretty good. He brings a real physical presence to the defense.
TT: And what does Markquese need to do get even better, to be ready for Big Ten ball?
DE: Mainly adjusting to the speed of the game, although he’s had the opportunity to compete against elite kids in Oregon over the summer and at the Under Armour game. I think that’s the type of speed he’ll see at the next level, and that will give him a jump on kids that haven’t seen it yet. Also, getting to Maryland early [Bell enrolls Jan. 20] will give him a jump, with him being able to play spring ball.
TT: Coach, when did you sort of know Markquese could be a special player – an FBS caliber player?
DE: Oh, when he was 11 (laughs). His brother played for me – a big offensive tackle. And when we went out to look at his brother, Markquese came with him and he was this lanky 11 year-old-kid. But I heard good things about him even then, and I could tell he had the chance to be a player.
And when he got here, he started right away as a freshman. We kind of knew even before he played a down he was going to be something. His first day at practice, he guarded our one wideout, who is now an outside backer at UConn. And I can remember Markquese did a pretty good job on him that very first day. So that showed us something right there.
TT: One thing I wanted to touch on, Coach, is Markquese’s relationship with his grandmother. In almost every interview he brings her up.
DE: He’s very, very close with his grandmom. She was definitely very important in his decision. Every time Markquese came back from a recruiting trip I’d talk to the head coach, and the coaches all couldn’t stop talking about what kind of kid Markquese was and how he doted on his grandmother. [The coaches] knew he was a special kid just from that. You can’t fake the way he cares about his grandmom.
I’ve always been a proponent of your actions are going to speak louder than your words – and from what [the coaches] saw, they knew he was a caring kid. That’s kind of what these schools are looking for.
TT: And what about Markquese around his teammates? What’s he like in the locker room, and also around you guys as coaches?
DE: Oh, he’s definitely a leader – vocally when he needs to be, but more-so lead by example. He’s 100 miles per hour all the time in practice. But he’s a great kid, easy going off the field, and very easy to get along with.
TT: What do you think Markquese’s potential is at Maryland?
DE: I think he has a very high ceiling. But he hasn’t really been able to get in the weight room, because he’s a three-sport athlete. He’s a very strong kid naturally; his lower half is really developed and I think his upper half will develop when he gets to college.
But I think “one day at a time” needs to be his mantra. Just keep working, keep improving and keep getting better day after day. If he works, I think he has a very high ceiling.
TT: Last question, Coach: Does Markquese remind you of another player, either in college or the NFL? Just to give fans a visual of what kind of hybrid he is?
DE: It’s funny, his first two years we had him playing wideout a lot, and defensively we’d put him at end and just let him rush the passer. But when he first came up, he was so tall, lanky and fast we called him A.J. Green. He was built like [Green] and moved like [Green].
But, as a safety, I’d say someone like Michael Boulware – someone who can hit like a linebacker and also cover in space. And some of the coaches that have come through have even said Richard Sherman, because [Sherman] was an offensive player initially too before switching to corner. I don’t think it would be a negative if Markquese turned out like any of those players (laughs).