Target 2004: George Bell

FAYETTEVILLE -- Had it not been for a season-ending knee injury, North Carolina running back prospect George Bell could have been the Tar Heels' first commitment for 2004.

"He was going to meet with Coach [John] Bunting on the Saturday following his injury, to receive an offer for a full-ride scholarship to North Carolina," Jack Britt head coach Richard Bailey said. "Don't get me wrong; [the UNC coaches] never came out and said that was going to occur. But it was set up for him to go to a game that Saturday, meet personally with Coach Bunting, and Hal Hunter had conveyed to me that they were going to offer him a full scholarship at that time."

Bell will never forget the second play of the second half of the fourth game into his junior season.

South View (Hope Mills) had shutout its first three opponents, yet Bell was having an outstanding game having already rushed for 125 yards by halftime.

It was late September 2002.

"He had gained about 10 yards on the carry," Bailey said. "He just had a bunch of people on top of him – that's what he does; he carries people – and while he was engaged, someone hit his knee from the side. It was a pretty graphic injury.

"It was a ‘Willis McGahee-type' injury."

Bell tore his anterior cruciate (ACL) and medial collateral (MCL) ligaments. He did not tear his meniscus, but it did have to be reattached.

"It was horrible," Bell said. "When it happened, I thought I had dislocated my knee. I had never had any problems with my knee before. The doctors said that what I have now is a lot better than a dislocation.

"It popped out of place, it hurt, but it popped back in place again," he said. "I thought I was going to go back in the game, but I had not put any weight on it. I never stood up; they just took me off the field."

Doctors later told Bell he would be out for at least nine months.

Bell will continue to rehabilitate his knee throughout the coming spring and summer. Currently, he spends two hours a day in physical therapy.

According to Bailey, Bell should be at full strength in time for the Buccaneers' opener this fall.

"Nine [months] is the good thing," Bailey said. "Now, mentally, [the doctors] said it could take as long as a year. But George feels like by August 1st, he'll be ready to go."

Despite the questions concerning Bell's health, Tennessee, N.C. State, Michigan, UNC, Penn State, Ohio State, Virginia and many other top NCAA universities remain hot on his trail.

"I don't think anybody wants to be the school that drops him," Bailey said. "I am sure that if George had not been hurt, he would have solid offers from 25 colleges right now."

Only the Wolfpack has put an offer in writing, but it would appear that rising sophomore T.A. McLendon has a firm grasp on N.C. State's backfield focus over the next few years.

"I don't look at a team's depth; I just look at their skills," Bell said. "They are going to play the best players, so if I think I can do better than T.A., then I know I will have a chance to start."

At first glance, Bell looks more developed physically than McLendon. Of course there is no substitute for experience, an area where McLendon has a distinct advantage.

The Tar Heel coaches have already told Bell he would get the chance to play as a freshman. On the opposite end of the spectrum from N.C. State, UNC needs an impact running back in the worst kind of way.

"I like the tradition at UNC with their running backs," Bell said. "They are Tailback U. I know that they haven't had a great running game over the last few years, but I think I could do some damage there."

In an attempt to put a value on Bell's worth as a recruit at this point, one can look at his junior stats, when he rushed for over 800 yards and scored seven touchdowns in three and half games. One of his scores came on a 99-yard run.

As a sophomore, Bell was a 1,000-yard back.

At 5-foot-11, 225 Bell already possesses the size and strength of an NFL prototype back. He bench presses 365 pounds, squats 440 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

He said ideally he would make his decision public on his next birthday – Oct. 28, 2003.

"Carolina has stayed with him," Bailey said. "They were instrumental in helping find a doctor for George. N.C. State has been very supportive as well. I'm a Carolina fan, but N.C. State has done a good job of recruiting him."

George Bell
1st Position: Running Back
Ht: 5-11
Wt: 225
40-Time: 4.4
BP: 365
Squat: 440

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