Bell rings true for MSUBell rings true for MSUFormer WC star shines for Dogs as true freshman

Published 11:29 am Friday, November 23, 2012

Usually, freshmen kickers in the Southeastern Conference are asked to watch and learn while redshirting for a season.

But Mississippi State’s Devon Bell, a former Warren Central star, isn’t your usual kicker. The freshman has seized the kicking duties for the 25th-ranked Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3 SEC), who play archrival Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) for the Egg Bowl trophy Saturday in Oxford.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the Bulldogs. A ninth win would likely impress representatives for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, who will be at the game. More importantly, it’d be the Bulldogs’ fourth win in a row against Ole Miss, their best streak in the series since 1939-42.

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Bell is hopeful he’ll get the opportunity to win the game with a kick and live a lifelong dream — not to mention earn bragging rights. Bell was an Ole Miss fan before changing his allegiance in 2010.

“I’ve got a lot of friends who root for State and a lot who are for Ole Miss,” Bell said. “It’s bragging rights, it’s a big game and we’re ready to play. Ever since I started kicking, I’ve imagined kicking that game-winning field goal. It’s something you think about when you’re practicing. It means a lot to us to be the best team in the state.”

Bell couldn’t have asked for a better debut season.

Last year’s kicker, Derek DePasquale, graduated and MSU’s kicking game was struggling in spring practice. That opened the door for Bell. He beat out junior Brian Egan for the job in the preseason and didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to prove himself.

When he went out to kick his first PAT in the season opener against Jackson State, Bell didn’t have any butterflies in his stomach. To him, it was a culmination of his years of work, going to kicking camps all over the country, and constantly practicing his craft.

“I just thought about how this was what I had worked for and I just needed to do what I was taught to do,” Bell said.

That PAT was just the beginning.

He’s hit 38 of 39 PATs and 64.7 percent of his field goal tries (11-for-17) with a long of 47 yards against LSU. Two of his misses were blocked. He’s gone 2-of-2 from 20-29 yards, 6-of-10 from 30-39 yards, and an impressive 3-of-5 from 40-49 yards to become only the third freshman to lead Mississippi State in scoring,

The 2011 Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year handles kickoff duties like he did at Warren Central, and has 12 touchbacks in 54 kickoffs.

Warren Central coach Josh Morgan, a former Bulldog himself, isn’t surprised at the good work done by Bell in Starkville. Bell owns the Warren County record with a 55-yard field goal last year against Jim Hill.

“I always knew he had the potential, the leg strength and the physical ability,” Morgan said. “But what’s really impressed me is how he’s handled the mental aspect that is so crucial in big-time college football at a pretty young age. His potential means he’s got a lot of football over the years ahead of him.”

Bell has faced adversity, as well. After starting out red-hot with eight straight made field goals, he missed three of his next four attempts before rebounding in recent weeks. His easygoing, relaxed mentality helps, but he’s got another trick up his sleeve to help him deal with the ups and downs of kicking.

“The biggest thing is having a very short-term memory,” Bell said. “If you miss, you just move on and worry about the next one. When I’m on the sideline, I just want to see where I’m going to be kicking from and take a couple of deep breaths before I get on the field.”

With junior Baker Swedenburg, Mississippi State’s punter, graduating after next season, Bell will eventually have the opportunity to return to punting. It’s a goal for him in the future, along with becoming one of the best at his position. If he does handle both placekicking and punting for the Bulldogs, he’d be the first in the SEC since South Carolina’s Ryan Succop from 2007-09. Succop now kicks in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I just want to be one of the top kickers and punters in the SEC,” Bell said. “It’d be a real honor for me and it’d mean a lot. When you’re one of the best in the SEC, with the top teams in the nation, that says something. I just want to get a little better every day.”