As a result, we decided to put some of the leftovers of our interviews with Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis as well as Bell's father, Vencent, in this companion piece.
From Vencent Bell:
--The Bell family has received a ton of fan mail since Vonn made his choice: "We have received so many letters to our home, we can't send them all back. We get letters from Ohio State fans almost every day. We get letters from as far as Delaware! He doesn't have time to respond to them all. We're working with his high school and coach has got some volunteers that are going to help him return some of these letters back to Ohio State fans."
--It took until the Under Armour All-America Game until Bell's father was fully convinced of his abilities: "You're talking to Vonn's dad. If Vonn was here now, he would tell you I'm probably his toughest critic. Vonn didn't convince me and win me over until this year. I tell you, I thought he was a very good player, but when I saw he was a special player was when he went to Orlando and lined up against some of the best All-Americans in the nation and he held his own. He did real well out there. When a player can do those types of things, you're special."
--Everett Withers was a key part of convincing the Bell family to send Vonn to Ohio State: "Every time we would see him, it reemphasized to us how much Ohio State wanted Vonn to be there. He was always there for support, but it kept reemphasizing the importance of Vonn. They wanted Vonn to be a part of what they were doing, and by being there, he would also let us know that he was willing to take Vonn personally and help him with developing and becoming a young man because we weren't going to be there as parents. He helped bridge that gap by convincing (Vonn's mother) Vanessa and I that by Vonn leaving he was going to be part of the Ohio State family. You have to understand the importance of that because Vonn is our youngest child. Coach helped Vanessa and I understand that Vonn leaving and going to Ohio State, he was going to be just fine."
--Ohio State's support staff also played a major role: "Football is good and great, but still, you need some time where you can actually talk to people off the subject of football sometimes. You can have some real issues going on in your life that you need to talk to somebody about. I think (coordinator of player development Ryan) Stamper and the other academics people that are there really made us feel comfortable enough about sending our son up there to Ohio State. (Stamper) played a major role in this, too. When we met with him and we met with the whole academic arm up there, it played a major role."
--Bell visited Alabama unofficially a number of times during the season: "A lot of people had Vonn pegged to go to Alabama because he went to four games at Alabama. We didn't go to one game at Ohio State – not one game. People were looking at us going to the games, thinking that Alabama was in the front and had an advantage over Ohio State or any other school. There wasn't any truth to that."
From Ridgeland High School head coach Mark Mariakis:
--While so much was focused on Bell's recruitment, what is truly important is what happens next: "I think that's one of the things Coach Meyer has pushed along with Coach Withers to Vonn is that he wants to build a relationship. At some places, it seems like they're just a number on a jersey. Vonn and his family felt like that was a place that he was going to go to that was really going to care about Vonn Bell. I'm a parent, and that's the kind of situation you want to send your child into, especially if he's going way off. Is somebody going to care for him more so than a free safety with the word ‘Bell' across his jersey? It's a real person in there. That was real comfortable, knowing that he was going to a place like that."
--Mariakis and Withers also formed a relationship in the process, partly because of how often Withers tripped to Ridgeland: "I can tell you this, he was down here as many times as he could be, legally. It seemed like he was here every week, but I know there's a limit on the times he could come and have contact with Vonn. Then he would come and just see me and not contact Vonn. It seemed like every time we played, he was here. I just know that every chance he could be, he was here. He just did an incredible job, a relentless job of recruiting Vonn Bell."
--Some fans have not responded well to Bell's choice: "It's fanatical. Football is intense. It's almost a religion down here in the South and where we're at between Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Those are grounds for fighting. People are absolutely crazy. With that said, the flip side of the coin is probably the most disappointing thing that I've seen in recruiting is after he did not go to Tennessee, how people responded to that. It's just a shame where society is and where people are in general. I'm sure every school has their fanatical fans that don't care about the kid, they just care about that school is going to win football games. That's a shame, but the young man is strong and he made his best choice as a young man, so he sleeps well at night."
--Ridgeland, which went to the state title game in Georgia's Class AAAA this year, has become a prep power: "We've been blessed to have six major D-I prospects the last five seasons, but Vonn has been the biggest profile kid that we've had. He's been the only nationally recognized name. We've had them sign at Bama and UGA and South Carolina and Oklahoma State, but to have the (25th) prospect in the country, he's the only All-American that we've had. It can be overwhelming and it got crazy, but man, I'd do it again if I had another one like him. There's no doubt about it."
--Lastly, Mariakis expects the Buckeyes to get a pillar of the community: "The young man is one of those kids that if you had a son, that's what you want your son to be like. He's a good, young Christian, a good athlete, a kid who has respect for everybody. He respects the starting inside linebacker as much as he does the scout team running back who gets his brains beat in all day long. He understands everyone has their role and is important to the team because of that role. He's not a guy who is going to big time you. He's going to talk to that freshman kid, he's going to go to the lunch room and hang out with the students who buy the tickets to the game. We have some special needs kids who are our managers or our ballboys, and he treats then as special as he does anybody on the team. He's just a kid that you want to be around, and you don't mind your personal kids to be around because you're not going to have to worry about him saying anything off-color or vulgar or any bad words. He's a coach's dream in every facet."