Jayson West knows it sounds crazy now. Before the beginning of last season, the Warren Central football coach wasn’t convinced he was doing the right thing by putting David Bell on the varsity roster.
It’s not that Bell wasn’t ready. He was. But West knew making the jump from middle school football to starting wide receiver at one of the state’s top Class 6A programs was a big one. There was plenty of time for Bell to build confidence on the freshman team.
“It was nerve-racking because I didn’t want to put a kid in a bad spot,” West said. “Our goal was to have him ready for midseason and a playoff push. But he wasn’t really interested in that. He said he was ready to go and we said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot.’ Who knew how good he would be?”
Bell took the opportunity and, literally, ran with it. He hasn’t stopped. The 6-1, 175-pound sophomore is the top big-play threat for No. 1-ranked Warren Central, leading the team in receiving yardage and touchdown catches. Bell has the uncanny ability to make catches in tight spaces where it appears the play is happening in slow motion for him and no one else.
There might be faster or stronger receivers in the state. But remember this: Bell is just 15 years old. You’d be hard-pressed to find a high school receiver with his combination of hand-eye coordination, ball skills and physical ability.
“It makes it easy for me when you have a guy like him because you know in a one-on-one situation, he’s probably going to be the one that wins,” said Warren Central quarterback Zach Summeier. “When it’s third-and-5, it’s easy to go to him because you know he’s going to fight for the football. It’s a huge advantage. If it comes down to it, I’ll throw to a spot and he’ll come down with it and make me look good.”
Though Bell might look like he was born to play the position, he’s only played receiver since his freshman year. He was a running back and middle linebacker growing up in elementary school. And basketball, not football, was his favorite sport.
“I liked basketball a lot more when I started playing,” Bell said. “As the years went along, I started to enjoy football more.”
Bell has continued to play both sports, and done it at a high level. In his first start at wide receiver last year, in the third week of the season against North Central, he caught two touchdown passes. He went on to finish with 35 catches for 649 yards and five touchdowns and was named to the MaxPreps Freshman All-American second team.
He then slipped seamlessly into basketball season, averaging 7.0 points and 4.5 rebounds for a competitive 10-win team. First-year coach Criss Beyers had Bell defend the opponent’s best player every game.
“I think the coaches look at me as a leader on both teams,” Bell said. “I do what I can do to help the people around me getting better.”
Bell plans to play basketball throughout high school, although his college future is in football. He has scholarship offers so far from Bowling Green, Cincinnati and Indiana, a list that will grow considerably.
“He’ll have 20 (offers) by the end of this year,” West said. “They’re not going to find anybody better on film and he’s only in game five of his sophomore year. He’s going to be one of those guys with 25 or 30 offers. He has that gift. It’s exciting for him. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, being hard-working and humble, the sky is the limit for him.”
Steve Wiltfong, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com who lives in the area, said Bell is “a national recruit.” Wiltfong said he’s surprised Bell doesn’t have more offers already, although that may have more to do with timing than anything.
“Recruits ‘blow up’ at different times and David hasn’t had much exposure outside of Warren games,” Wiltfong said. “He’ll for sure be highly recruited. He’s a big-play guy with big-time ball skills who can win those one-on-one situations. He doesn’t need much space to make a play and he’s physical.”
Bell, who is ranked as the No. 9 wide receiver nationally in the 2019 class by 247Sports, hasn’t slowed down as a sophomore. In last week’s 66-14 win over Pike, four of Bell’s five catches went for touchdowns. He has 29 catches on the season for 527 yards and eight TDs.
Because Warren Central has other weapons at receiver like junior Dean Tate (36 catches for 485 yards and four TDs), junior Daijour Griffie (27 catches for 350 yards and three TDs), senior Paul Minor (13 catches for 149 yards) and senior Dominique Tyler (11 catches for 142 yards), opponents can’t focus on trying to shut down Bell.
“Pike started doubling him, so we went to the other side and scored a touchdown,” Summeier said. “We have other guys who can step up. But if you want go one-on-one with him, he’ll win the battle.”
Bell’s cousin, Brandon Ballinger, played on Warren Central’s state championship teams in 2003 and ’04 as a running back, receiver and defensive back. The Warriors figure to have a shot at the program’s ninth state title this year, in large part due to Bell’s contributions.
He doesn’t say much. But every so often, he’ll give Summeier a look. They both know what it means.
“If I know I can beat the (defensive back), I’ll look at him and he knows to throw it to me,” Bell said. “We have that type of connection.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.