National Signing Day: Bell will fill a need for Wingate
CHINA GROVE — Sometimes, fate, luck and being in the right place at the right time are the keys to playing college football.
At least, that’s part of why T.J. Bell ended up signing his papers on Wednesday to play at Wingate University.
As the story goes, Bell and his mom made a visit to Wingate, thinking of being a student. He liked the campus and knew it was the place for him.
“But I’ve always dreamed of playing on Saturday afternoons,” Bell said.
So Mom and her kid ventured over to the Bulldog football offices.
At a slim, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, your first impression is, where would Bell play?
At Carson, he played multiple spots for head coach Mark Woody. He was a tight end, an offensive lineman, a defensive end and a long snapper.
Did you say long snapper? That intrigued the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
An assistant informed Bell that Wingate’s long snapper had just left. That was a Bulldog need.
A need Bell will now fill.Carson assistant Travis Billings said if anyone can master the position, it is Bell.
“He was our utility player,” Billings said. “There’s a lot to be said for that. The more things you bring to the table, the better off you’ll be in the future.”
Bell didn’t long snap until his senior season. His attitude was, “Hey, why not?”
But it is an eye-opening experience when you know there is someone ready to cream you as soon as you snap the ball.
“When you’ve got somebody 100 to 150-pounds bigger than you, it’s crazy,” Bell chuckled.
To the Carson senior, it was just one more position to conquer.
“I don’t know if T.J. was a quarterback,” joked Billings, “but he played just about everywhere else.”
Long snappers are in for punts, extra points and field goal attempts.
“You’ve got to have explosive hips,” Billings said. “And they want you to be athletic because you have to cover the field and make plays.”
Bell has the athletic genes. While at South Rowan, father Tim was the Rowan County defensive player of the year in 1986. His uncle, Todd Bell, who is currently the athletics director at West Rowan, had a chance to play collegiate baseball.
“I wanted to be the next one (to play in college),” Bell said.
Billings can give Bell advice on playing at the next level. He was a Western Carolina offensive lineman.
“To me, it was more like a job,” Billings said.
A job Bell is more than capable of handling, Billings thinks.
“Being a long snapper, there’s a lot of technique,” Billings said. “ And time needs to be put in. T.J.’s willing to do that.”
And do it for four years at the Division II, South Atlantic Conference school.
“I’m really happy,” Bell said. “It feels great.”
Bell’s visit to the coaching offices that day on his visit proves one more thing that’s wacky about recruiting football players.
You just never know.“It’s about being in the right place at the right time,” Billings said.
“And T.J. was.”