Nick Bell dead at 20 after cancer battle

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell died Tuesday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital after a short battle with cancer.

Bell, a 20-year-old from Bessemer, Ala., was diagnosed in late September after experiencing headaches during football practice and had surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a mass from his brain. He had emergency surgery on Monday morning after it was found that the cancer had aggressively spread throughout his body.

"Nick was a son and he was a brother to everyone in this football family," a somber Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday night. "I know he's looking down on us right now and I'm sure he's already been picked for a team up in heaven to play football again -- the game that he loved."

Mullen held a team meeting on Tuesday afternoon, where he informed the players Bell had died. The Bulldogs went ahead with their regularly scheduled practice. School officials said counselors were available for students and staff, and practice wasn't mandatory.

"That's a sanctuary for our coaches, our players and our football family to be out there together doing the thing we love most," Mullen said. "It kind of felt good to sweat out some of the feelings and emotions that were inside."

After Bell's initial surgery on Oct. 1, there was optimism about his recovery. He returned to campus on Oct. 23 and visited teammates on the sideline during the Bulldogs' victory over Alabama-Birmingham.

But his condition deteriorated quickly over the past week, and he was rushed to the hospital on Sunday.

About 50 Mississippi State players and coaches visited Bell and his family at UAB Hospital on Monday evening.

"We grabbed a bus and loaded up a bunch of guys," Mullen said. "I think it's great that a lot of our players got to go over there, see the situation and get to say their goodbyes."

Bell, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound sophomore, played in four games this season, starting two, including his final game against Georgia on Sept. 25. He made seven total tackles, including two for a loss. He played in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2009, making 16 tackles.

Bell's death has turned Mississippi State's off week into a somber occasion. The Bulldogs (No. 20 BCS, No. 21 AP) don't play again until Nov. 13, when they travel to face Alabama.

"Our football team I know is hurting right now, learning how to cope," Mullen said. "We've got a lot of young men 18 to 22 years old who are learning how to deal with grief like this for the first time."