POINT CITY PEDIGREE: Bell legacy began in West Point

Vonn Bell with his dad, Vencent Bell, after Ohio State won the national championship.
Staff Writer

He won a college football national championship playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes, including a key interception against Alabama.

Since being drafted three years ago, he’s played in every game, helping build a New Orleans Saints defense that has grown into a force on the way to a 12-2 season. Just Monday night, he put together a highlight reel with seven tackles, including four solo, and a quarterback sack from his safety position in the Saints’ win over the Carolina Panthers.

But when football fans think of Vonn Bell, most don’t realize his pedigree started in West Point. In fact, his father, Vencent Bell, was a key part of the Wave’s first state championship team in 1982. The Wave just wrapped up its 10th state title.

“A whole lot of people in Mississippi are Saints fans and recognize Von’s name, but a lot of folks don’t know his roots are in West Point,” Vencent Bell said by phone Tuesday.

Vencent Bell played inside linebacker on the 13-0 1982 team that shutdown Greenville, Olive Branch and Gulfport on the way to the title. He earned the nickname Dr. Kills from long-time Green Wave radio announcer Bud Bowen.

“I called him that because when he hit people, he put some pain on them,” Bowen recalled Tuesday.

“He was the physical and spiritual leader of that team. He wasn’t too big, but he was chiseled. He had those leadership qualities that could get the best out of not only himself but all those around him. When he spoke, people listened. He wasn’t just a great player, he was a great human being,” Bowen added.

“On Friday nights, he took no prisoners. He brought it every game and every play. He was something. He could talk it and walk it.”

Vencent went on to EMCC where he played linebacker and then to Murray State where he moved to safety under legendary coach Frank Beamer.

Between West Point and Murray State, Bell grew from about 180 pounds to a much taller and stouter 215 or so. Standing next to his NFL son today, the older Bell, who now is the executive director for the YMCA in Montgomery, Ala., looks like he could suit up.

The 53-year-old Vencent still has numerous relatives in the West Point area, including his 81-year-old father, and gets back to the community regularly. He fondly remembers those championship days, although he recalls that like today, the defense doesn’t get enough credit.

“That team was built around defense, the defense won a lot of games. The offense gets the credit but that’s not the way I remember it. We had a defense like no other.”

Lyndon Robertson was a star at quarterback on the team and Thunder and Lightning — tailbacks Robert Smith and Shawn Sykes — were in the backfield.

But in 13 games, the defense gave up just 103 points and pitched five shutouts, including beating Greenville 7-0 in the rain when the Hornets had the state’s second best running back. Of the 103 points, Tupelo, a much larger school, scored 22, the most the Wave allowed all year and that was in the second game of the season.

“It’s like it is today, the defense seldom gets credit,” Bell observed.

Dad says his son is “almost a carbon copy of me,” although he says his son is “not the killer hitter I was.”

Instead, the younger Bell is “more sophisticated.”

He’s also faster.

While Vencent Bell ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, which was considered blazing speed for a linebacker in his day, his son is closer to a 4.4.

By the time the older Bell had finished college and started building a career, his football days had started taking a toll with shoulder and knee issues. With that burden on his mind, he didn’t encourage Vonn, the second of two sons, to play football.
“I thought he was going to be an Olympic swimmer,” Vencent remembered.

But when Vonn was in his early teens, he came to his parents and said he didn’t want to swim anymore. His older brother was playing basketball but when asked what sport he might want to try, Vonn said football. His parents moved to Chattanooga at about that time and Vonn played middle school football, his first shot at organized tackle football.

The rest is history as he became a star at Ridgeland High (Georgia) and then on to Ohio State.

“Vonn excelled, he was like a natural. I was seeing things he did and was amazed. I really noticed the speed. I was fast, but I can’t keep up with him,” the proud dad said, noting his son made the same transition from “178 pounds wet” in high school to the fleet 215 pounds he is today. “I think he’s now a great football player who will be around.”

The older son now coaches basketball at the college level.

“It all started there in West Point. That’s where the roots are,” he said. “In our own small way, the Bell family put West Point on the map. I’m still proud of it, it’s still home.”