ROSSVILLE, Ga. -- The 60th-best prospect in the ESPN 150,Vonn Bell, calmly stepped to the podium for his Under Armour All-America Game jersey presentation as part of the American Family Insurance Tour. The ceremony just happened to take place in the middle of a pep rally for Rossville (Ga.) Ridgeland's game against LaFayette (LaFayette, Ga.) Friday night. The packed gymnasium, the band and the half-dozen video cameras fazed him none as he thanked all involved with his selection.
Most of this season, opposing offenses haven't had much effect on Bell, either. However, once -- just once -- the attention associated with being one of the top prospects in the nation was a bit much for the safety for Rossville (Ga.) Ridgeland.
Coach Mark Mariakis remembers that game well. It occurred when Ridgeway took on Calhoun (Ga.) High in the season opener.
"It was the first time he stepped on the field and everybody knew who Vonn Bell was," Mariakis said. "Nobody knew who Vonn Bell was at the end of last season. We did, but as far as a national name, they didn't know it.
"He walked out there and there were cameras all in his face watching him warm-up, stretch, catch punts. It was crazy."
Bell played well but was admittedly taken aback. He went to Mariakis for guidance.
"When I sat down with coach, I said, 'I tried to show the world too much,'" Bell said.
Mariakis' response was simple, direct and to the point: It's not going to get any better.
"I told him, 'You got to get used to it. Don't shy away from it because it's going to be there the rest of your career.'" Mariakis said.
So that was that. Since then, Bell has been more comfortable on the field and with the attention associated with being a star. It showed on Friday, when the6-foot tall, 190-pound prospect was presented with his Under Armour Game jersey .
"It's a big dream," Bell said of the all-star event that will be held Jan. 4 in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Not everybody gets to get picked for this game, so it's a big thing for me, my coaches and this community."
Bell constantly referenced what the honor means for his team and his community, not just for him. Clearly, he loves the Rossville area and is beloved by its residents, even though he actually lives in Ooltewah, Tenn., which is just over the Georgia/Tennessee border. That explains why Bell grew up a Tennessee fan and why the Volunteers are still in the hunt for the nation's fifth-ranked safety and sixth-best prospect in Georgia.
But there's another reason why the Vols are alongside Alabama and Ohio State as Bell's finalists. Another Georgia safety-turned-Volunteer has shown Bell what could be in Knoxville. It's hard for Bell not to imagine being like his favorite Vol, Eric Berry, the former All-American who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I haven't met E.B. yet but I plan on meeting him," Bell said. "He's a hard hitter. He makes plays. He makes plays all over the field. He's got instincts for the game."
When asked if Berry's play is similar to his, Bell said, "A little bit. Somewhat. But I've still got to catch him."
The Vols have plenty of competition to land Bell. The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide have seen to that.
"Coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, he's got a good winning history," Bell said. "He's going to win games wherever he goes. He'll bring the SEC up to the Big Ten. He'll get those type of caliber players. Coach Nick Saban, that's the No. 1 team in the nation. They win championships."
Bell said he's not worried about the tumultuous times in Knoxville, where third-year head coach Derek Dooley is under a lot of scrutiny as the Vols have struggled to a 3-4 record and are 0-4 in the SEC.
Bell said he's taking the turmoil in stride, much like how he is dealing with the attention of being one of the top prospects int he country.