How Bello found football

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The unlikeliest member of Florida State's second-ranked recruiting class and perhaps most improbable among all prospects in the ESPN 300, Abdul Bello learned about football from the movies and studied up on the Seminoles by watching YouTube videos of their offensive-line drills last spring.

He is a clean slate at age 17 -- no bad habits or preconceptions about life as a touted signee at a football powerhouse.

"I just want to learn, learn, learn," Bello said.

A coach's dream, if you will.

The 6-foot-6, 293-pound Bello, rated No. 6 nationally at offensive tackle out of Florida's Montverde Academy, displayed impressive skills last week in practice sessions before the Under Armour All-America Game. Among nine FSU pledges out of nearly 100 prospects in attendance, Bello brings a back story as unique as any in recruiting this year.

He was discovered in June 2013 at a camp in his native Nigeria by former Maryland linebacker Ricardo Dickerson. Partnering with former three-time NFL All-Pro LaVar Arrington in a venture to educate athletes globally on the fundamentals of football, Dickerson helped arrange for Bello to land at Montverde.

Bello, trained as a boxer from age 13, took to the new sport quickly.

"I was very surprised the first day I saw him on the football field," said Walter Banks, who coached Bello at Montverde. "I hadn't seen a lineman like that in years."

Scholarship offers came quickly for Bello after Banks distributed his film last January from four games in his junior season of 2013, Bello's first attempt at the sport.

Florida offered. Most of the Southeastern Conference followed.

"People saw what I saw," Banks said. "He's a project kid with great feet."

Bello forged a connection with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett and the lineman committed in July.

He's ticketed to graduate this spring and head to Tallahassee two years after that fateful meeting with Dickerson; Bello's life changed in a way unimaginable for a kid from Nigeria.

So how did it all happen?

Really, the story begins in 2000, when Bello was 2 years old and the Washington Redskins drafted Arrington as a star linebacker out of Penn State with the second overall pick. A year later, Dickerson enrolled at Maryland and soon befriended teammate Shawne Merriman, for whom Arrington served as a mentor.

The relationship between Arrington and Dickerson grew. And when Arrington, after his retirement, founded Xtreme Procision, a company that has teamed with Under Armour to stress fundamental play at the developmental levels of football, it meant an opportunity for Dickerson.

"We feel confident that the way we teach the game, it works," Arrington said last week in Orlando, where the Under Armour practice jerseys were fitted with Arrington's XP equipment to teach proper movements and skills in an effort to help reduce injuries.

Arrington and Dickerson have taken their teachings to Europe and other areas. In 2011, Dickerson found Nnamdi Egbuaba in Nigeria, helping him relocate to Baltimore's St. Frances Academy. Egbuaba redshirted as a freshman linebacker at Maryland in 2014 after suffering a shoulder injury in August.

Bello's journey to the United States got a jump start four years ago. As a 13-year-old in southern Nigeria's Delta State city of Warri, he was teased by classmates about his weight.

So he took up boxing to get in shape, training with a lightweight who stressed the importance of quick feet. And at age 14, weighing 285 pounds, Bello said, he won an under-18 boxing title.

Meanwhile, he learned of football from movies like "Remember the Titans."

"I knew I would love to play this game," Bello said. "It was the action."

So he jumped at the chance to attend a camp in Nigeria last year. Enter Richardson, who found Nigerian Oluwole Betiku at the same camp.

Betiku now lives with Arrington in southern California and attends Junipero Serra High School. A Class of 2016 defensive end, he counts offers from USC, UCLA, Oklahoma and Notre Dame and attended the Under Armour Elite 50 Experience last week in Florida.

"We wanted to start something that had never been done," Dickerson said. "Our plan is to go to camps around the world and give all kids an opportunity like this."

For Bello, the choice to leave Nigeria was costly and difficult. His father died more than a decade ago, leaving Bello's mother with four children. He has a younger brother and two older sisters, one of whom works as a model and has traveled to the United States.

Bello said his mother, fearing fraud -- which permeates Nigeria -- doubted the plan to place her son at an American high school. The arrival of his student visa and paperwork from Montverde helped convince her, Bello said.

Once in place, his training as a boxer helped accelerate his pace of development, surprising his coaches.

"His feet are better than guys in the NFL," said Banks, the coach at Montverde, which has discontinued its football program after three seasons.

Bello talks to his family in Nigeria almost every day. Still, he said, his mother and siblings struggle to comprehend the enormity of football in America.

He said he did not expect, even after settling at Montverde, to receive an opportunity to play in college. In fact, he knew little last year about the programs that recruited him. For insight on FSU, he went to YouTube.

Bello said he liked the manner in which the linemen played and learned. He plans to be a willing student at Florida State.

"I don't complain," he said. "The more they give me to learn, they more I take."

It beats the alternative as an oversized boxer in Nigeria.