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Gambling in the fast lane

Speedy Sam Bell is willing to take a chance to make a big play.

Published September 19, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY - He was a blur on tape, just like in real life.

Wesley Chapel was up 20-12 with the ball and four minutes left. River Ridge needed a defensive play. Cornerback Sam Bell stepped up to tackle Marcus Stewart but committed too soon. Bell forced Stewart inside, but fell attempting the tackle.

Most plays, the story ends there. Bell didn't let it. Only after reviewing the tape, after slowing it down, could the coaches see it was the first-year starter who gave the Royal Knights a shot at upsetting the favored Wildcats.

Here's what the tape showed: Bell got up running and 20 yards downfield found Stewart again. A teammate was about to bring Stewart down, and Bell struck. Stewart's right arm held the ball loosely, away from his body. Bell slipped behind him and grabbed the ball away with his right arm.

The ball bounced loose. Bell pounced on it. River Ridge's offense drove the other way, but a fourth-down plunge at the goalline fell inches short as time expired.

"That's just a great play," Knights coach Mike DeGennaro said. "He could have just laid there depressed, upset he missed the tackle. Instead he got up, got downfield and made something happen."

Bell hopes to make a lot of things happen for resurgent River Ridge, enjoying its first 1-1 start in five years. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound junior brings shifty moves, quick feet and a relentless motor to both sides of the ball. He's had a long wait to make that play, or any play, at this level.

"This is my chance to play varsity football," he said, "and I've been waiting for my chance to play since I was little. Watching on the sidelines, since I was like 10-11, I couldn't wait."

On defense he's earned his first start at corner. Bell is the only rookie on an otherwise veteran secondary. He joined fellow corner Jahmaal Osbourne and safeties Jordan Hoolihan and David Onorato, all experienced technicians who are always analyzing tape.

A super offseason earned Bell the chance to start alongside them. The newcomer brings something to the defensive backfield it didn't have before: a knack for taking risks.

"He's a smart player. He sees a lot of what's going on, but he's willing to take some chances," DeGennaro said. "He's not afraid to get himself in a bad situation, he's trying to make things happen.

"Even now I think Jahmaal, playing opposite Sam, is taking more chances because that's what Sam does. It's actually helping Jahmaal a little bit."

On offense Bell is still getting his legs under him - but foes are finding it hard to knock them out from under him. Sometimes he lines up at receiver, but he has shown flashes of productivity behind running back Anthony Daugherty, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown while averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

"When he does run he does not give defenses a clean shot," the coach said. "He's always moving, always slashing."

One play stands out: In the preseason jamboree, Bell was swallowed up by Wesley Chapel's defense and appeared to be tackled for a loss. But he was so low to the ground no one could finish him off. Crouching, his arm steadied against the ground, he spun loose and sprinted upfield for a long gain.

He moved like, well, like a blur.

"That was just instinct," Bell said. "Seeing the hole and making the move. I kept my balance, I got up and I ran. I kind of got them by surprise.

"I made sure they didn't have anywhere to hit."

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