National Signing Day: Vonn Bell picks Ohio State
ROSSVILLE, Ga. (WRCB) -- One of the nation's biggest recruiting question marks provided an answer Wednesday morning.
Vonn Bell is officially an Ohio State Buckeye.
The Ridgeland defensive back grabbed the Ohio State hat during a nationally televised event shortly after 10 a.m. ET as part of National Signing Day, which is the first day high school football players can sign a binding national letter of intent with the college of their choice.
Bell then promptly signed his LOI and faxed it to head coach Urban Meyer, cementing his college future. He chose Ohio State over offers from Tennessee and Alabama, who were his other two finalists.
"Urban Meyer is on a mission to win a national championship right now," Bell said in front of a packed auditorium. "You see this year he went 12-0 with guys he didn't even recruit. He's going to be a winner wherever he goes. He has a history of it.
"He's going to bring more really good guys in, and we're going to bring the SEC up there to Columbus."
The 6-foot, 195-pounder is widely-regarded as one of the hardest hitters in the country. He was bumped to a 5-star rating, the highest a recruit can get, from both Rivals.com and 247Sports shortly after his senior season.
While he warmed late in the process to new Vols' coach Butch Jones, he said the program ultimately had too much ground to make up after the firing of Derek Dooley.
"UT and Coach Jones is in a struggle right now. He's still trying to find the right guys to help bring Tennessee back, but I thought to myself I might not have that kind of time to wait. Those two years could be long," Bell said. "When (Jones) was going out and trying to build his staff, I was building stronger relationships with the other guys at Ohio State, so I got stronger and stronger with them while UT was out trying to find it's other guys.
"I told him that this morning, and he said there's no hard feelings. He said he'll be a fan wherever I go."
Bell recorded 131 tackles, including five for a loss, and intercepted three passes last fall while leading the Panthers to the Georgia Class AAAA state championship game for the first time in school history. He was also one of Ridgeland's most electric players on offense, where his efforts as a running back and receiver were highlighted by a four-touchdown, 271-yard performance on just five touches in a rout of rival Dalton in early October.
Bell transferred to Ridgeland from Chattanooga Central after his sophomore season, and quickly became a household name in recruiting circles during a breakout junior campaign in 2011.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt was the first to offer Bell a scholarship in January of 2012, and Alabama's Nick Saban was quick to follow.
Days later, Bell caused quite a stir for then-Vols' coach Derek Dooley in Knoxville when he admitted to being a lifelong Tennessee fan, but receiving no interest from UT.
Dooley promptly offered Bell, but later drew criticism for not keeping steady contact with the prized recruit. Tennessee was considered the long shot and purely sentimental pick of Bell's final three when Dooley was fired in November, but Big Orange made a serious closing push under Jones.
Meyer was also one of the first to offer Bell, and the Buckeyes surprised many with a full-court press to lure the safety North.
"It wasn't so much a tough thing to say 'yes' to somebody. The toughest part for him was having to tell two people 'no,'" said Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis. "Tennessee did a great job of coming in late, but they were just behind the eight ball and they've still got some rebuilding to do."
Bell started narrowing his choices last June, trimming his list of potential colleges to Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Clemson and Texas.
He named his three finalists in September and took official visits to each in January. He shut down his recruiting last Friday to discuss the decision with his family and friends, then called Meyer minutes before his announcement Wednesday morning to tell the Buckeyes' coach 'I'm in.'
"They said I could probably start up there, but they're not going to give it to you. I'm going to work for it," Bell said. "I've got to get ready, get my body ready for that type of hitting because it's a different level of speed up there.
"But we'll get it and get ready for that national championship roll."