MOULTRIE – It’s been quite some time since the Colquitt County High football team pulled off that big road playoff victory in 2017.
(Which one? There were like four of them.)
This is in reference to one of the early ones, when the Packers held off Walton High in Marietta 28-21 in the second round. Defensive end Nathan Bell finished that game plus three more road playoff wins and the heart-breaking championship game loss at North Gwinnett. But for the entire 2018 campaign (ending in yet another heart-breaking finals loss to Milton at Mercedes-Benz Stadium), it was a spectator’s role.
These are the words no competitive athlete wants to hear: “Out for the season.”
“It was really shocking, because I’d never been injured like that,” said Bell after Friday afternoon practice for Colquitt County High indoors. “Just looking forward to the next season when I can get back in there.”
Bell said he suffered a full shoulder dislocation and a full 360-degree labrum tear. Though he played on, things kept getting worse and worse for Bell after that Walton contest. There was rehabilitation, then Bell had an operation done in Birmingham.
“(The surgeon) works with the Alabama teams,” said Bell, who had the procedure done in July of 2018.
“After four months, I could start working out, and in six months I was back to football. But in six months, the season was over. I’ve been good this whole spring. As soon as the season was over last year, I was cleared. After that, I was still rehabbing and practicing along. I haven’t missed anything due to my shoulder since then.
“It took some getting used to with surgery. But I’m back to 100 percent right now.”
Spring practice, padded camps and Aug. 1 when the GHSA allowed full pad practices were the only times Bell put on the shoulder pads and was able to hit somebody else. When he was playing, as a sophomore, Bell made his mark on the Packer defense with 43 total tackles, five tackles for a loss and 11 quarterback hurries. But last season, all he could do was observe teammates, listen to coaches and study film.
“I feel like I would be a lot better than I am right now if I would have played my junior year,” said Bell. “Overall, it worked out for the best, I think. Getting to learn and grow. Trying to get mental reps. Trying to see myself in those situations and what I would do.”
Did he take the opportunity to do a little coaching of his own?
“Really, people were encouraging me,” said Bell. “Brian Merritt was the main one. He would keep on encouraging me because he knew I would be back for my senior year. He told me I was going to be a really good player.”
Being on the sideline also means you are not getting live-action looks from the college scouts or on the game film that coaches send out to the next level. Bell does have the dream of being a college football player, and with the Packers taking part in various camps through the summer there are already offers for his services. He said right now it’s Jacksonville University and some two-year schools.
“It should pick up when I start playing,” said Bell. “(Getting on film) is the main thing.
“I’m definitely not the most athletic, but I think I have a good motor, a good drive. I just try to outwork people. It’s definitely (mental and physical). If you’re not there mentally, you are not going to be good at all. The physical part … you got to be tough.”
The main professional players Bell watches for techniques on defense are JJ Watt and Von Miller.
When Bell missed 2018, that put Zy Brockington – a sophomore at the time – on the defensive front with Merritt, a senior, and junior LaQuavion Haynes. It’s a Packer defensive line that will need a new middle to make life easier for the edge rushing linebackers like Ty French and Biron Silas.
Defensively, the Packers also lost a lot of its middle ‘teeth,’ senior middle linebacker Marcus Anderson and senior safties Camari and Samari Louis.
The unit has a new coordinator in Shawn Campbell, and Bell’s new position coach is Greg Carswell, who moved south to Moultrie from Grayson High School.
“We have a lot of speed,” said Bell assessing his group. “Got no size, but our speed matches up. We’re looking pretty good. I’m really impressed with (Carswell). He treats us like a family.
“We’re getting (the new system under Campbell) slowly figured out. Step-by-step we’re learning more.
And Bell said the new head coach, Justin Rogers, knows what he’s doing, especially leading the offense. Packer fans will see how it all meshes together for a real game Aug. 24 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against North Gwinnett, whom Colquitt blasted in last year’s playoffs 45-0.
“No doubt we’re going to win it,” predicted Bell about getting to another state finals.