In 25 years of coaching high school football, Chuck Smith said current Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson was one of a short list of players he's come across who were absolute game-changers on defense, players for whom you had to find a way with which to deal or they would wreck your game plan.
For the last two years, he's been fortunate to coach a player like that at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, N.J. - rising senior Brandon Bell.
"He's been a standout player since his sophomore year. He had an outstanding postseason when we made it to the sectional championship that year. In a couple of our playoff games, Brandon, as a sophomore, was clearly the best player on the field, on both sides of the football,'' Smith said. "He continued to progress last year and was arguably in our conference, the Cape Atlantic League, probably the best defensive player.
"I've only seen a handful of kids that can dominate a game from a position on defense. He's one of them.''
The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Bell became the 11th member, fourth New Jersey product and first linebacker in Penn State's 2013 recruiting class when he called the Nittany Lion coaches and committed on Wednesday night.
Bell had about a dozen scholarship offers at the time of his pledge, making his decision right after taking back-to-back visits to Penn State and Rutgers. Northwestern, Boston College, West Virginia, Maryland, UConn and Temple also were in the running.
"I went up there for a visit and that's the place I wanted to be for the future,'' Bell said in an interview with his hometown paper, the Press of Atlantic City. "It's the institution itself. It kind of won me over.''
Bell's dimensions are somewhat reminiscent of those of former Lion and current NFL All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, and the scouting report on him evokes similar comparisons, as well: Bell is considered to be as tough as nails and relentless in pursuit of the football, possessing the athletic ability to do it or to cover a back coming out of the backfield.
Making the Atlantic City Press all-star first team for the second time as a junior, Bell had 117 tackles, 22 of those behind the line of scrimmage, recorded six sacks and forced three fumbles. He scored two touchdowns on defense and another five on offense, where he rushed for more than 400 yards as a two-way starter.
"He covered from sideline to sideline, more of a read-and-react type person. He's very fast on the field. I think that's what stands out on his highlight tape is how quickly he gets to the football at the line of scrimmage or when someone breaks to the sideline,'' Smith said. "On his highlight tape, there's a lot of plays where a team broke a play to the sideline and Brandon is in pursuit and hunts the guy down and makes the play.
"Those that were recruiting Brandon were recruiting him as an every down linebacker, because he is good against the run and he can cover people out of the backfield in pass coverage. He has that deceptive speed. He runs a 4.6 40 for a kid that size.''
Bell has been playing the middle in a 3-5 defense like that used by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. However, Oakcrest is switching to a 4-3 look this year that might make Bell an even bigger headache for the opposition because he'll have more linemen to account for blockers and allow him to run to the ball carrier.
Smith said Bell accentuates his talent with a willingness to study film to try to pick up things on other teams and to make himself better.
"He's a great kid, a great character person. He's accepted the role of being a leader on our team not only by vocal encouragement but by example. Just a great person and a great football player,'' Smith said.
Bell was asked by his hometown newspaper about committing to the Lions in light of the recent Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and trial. Bell seemed to view that as an opportunity to be part of a new beginning at Penn State.
"The community itself is filled with great people,'' he said. "They're going to get over the [scandal]. They have a slogan - 'Restore the Roar.' I kind of like that.''
Bell gave new head coach Bill O'Brien high marks, but Smith said his star linebacker - who visited Pen State twice - seemed to form a really good connection with his recruiting coach, who also will be his position coach at University Park.
"I know the facilities were eye-popping to him, but I think the big thing was that Ron Vanderlinden was recruiting him,'' Smith said. "I think that really stuck out in Brandon's head.''
Smith went with Bell on one of his visits to Penn State and got to renew acquaintances with Carson, who is heading into his junior year with the Nittany Lions. Smith was the offensive coordinator at Mainland when they faced Carson and Southern Regional in the playoffs in 2008.
"Glenn Carson was a player I had to worry about where he was at all the time. Brandon reminds me so much of Glenn Carson in high school, it's unbelievable,'' Smith said.
"I'm feeling blessed,'' Bell said. "Not everybody gets an opportunity like this. I can never take it for granted.''