Bell is master of academy, helps No. 2 Ohio State's defense
Nov. 12, 2015
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The best way to earn a diploma from the Vonn Bell Academy is by learning from the headmaster.
Ohio State junior Vonn Bell intercepted a pass by Minnesota's Mitch Leidner on Saturday in Ohio Stadium and returned it 16 yards for his second touchdown of the season to break a scoreless tie late in the first half of the No. 2 Buckeyes' 28-14 win.
That play, and a career-tying 10 tackles, earned Bell the Big Ten's defensive player of the week award and cemented his reputation as a playmaker, just as his fictitious Vonn Bell Academy, or VBA, advertises.
"That was a heck of a play," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of the pick six. "(Bell) is playing at very, very high level."
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten, No. 3 CFP) plays at Illinois (5-4, 2-3) on Saturday, and the safety hopes he's not done scoring.
The loquacious Bell formed VBA two seasons ago during some banter with other OSU defensive backs. Even as a freshman, he "offered" to help them learn how to catch the ball and make big plays.
"You can just tell that Vonn Bell loves the game of football and is having fun out there," co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash said.
Earlier this season, Bell recovered a fumble for a 14-yard score against Hawaii. He credits Ash and co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell for trusting his instincts.
"They just told me to go out there and do what I do and make plays for the team, bring that spark and passion that I show through this game," he said.
That's what the Vonn Bell Academy is all about, although not everyone has heard the message. In talking postgame about his latest score he said, "It's who I am. It's why I'm here. It's VBA, man."
When a reporter didn't understand the reference, Bell looked at another media member and said, "Vonn Bell Academy. He didn't know? You've got to inform him."
Safety Tyvis Powell was impressed by Bell's interception, writing on his Twitter account, "I need to go back to the Vonn Bell Catching Academy (VBA).They giving out lessons on how to get Pick 6s."
Bell, from Rossville, Georgia, backs his talk. He is one of 16 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in college football. Last season, he was ninth nationally with six interceptions, the most for an Ohio State player since 2001.
"I envision picking the ball off or scoop and scoring a big fumble," Bell said. "It's a natural knack for the ball and being there at the right time and making those plays for the guys. I'm just blessed to have those natural abilities."
Hs five-star talent at Ridgeland High School didn't help him get much playing time as a freshman at Ohio State. He made his first start in the Orange Bowl against Clemson and tipped and then intercepted a Tajh Boyd pass at the OSU 1-yard line to prevent the Tigers from increasing a 14-9 advantage.
"You think you're all-world coming out of high school, but it's not really your place when you come to an elite place like this," Bell said.
In 2014, he started 14 games as Ohio State won the College Football Playoff national championship.
This season he's helped the Buckeyes rank fifth in passing yards allowed (163.9 per game) and ninth in pass efficiency defense (101.1 rating).
After watching Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers also play on the other side of the ball, Bell has volunteered his services to the Ohio State offense. That's just what Chris Gamble did for the Buckeyes' 2002 national champions.
Thinking about having the chatterbox Bell on offense, receivers coach Zach Smith was less than enthused.
"Just dealing with him 20 minutes a day when we go through the defenses is plenty," he said, joking. "I'm not dealing with him the whole day. No chance."