Injury in past, Blue Hen linebacker Bell eyes second shot at senior season

Charles Bell

NEWARK — Charles Bell has made thousands of tackles in his life.

But something about this one was different.

The Delaware linebacker thinks he must have twisted awkwardly somehow when he came up to make the stop in a game against James Madison last fall.

All Bell knows is that he immediately knew something was wrong.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I really couldn’t catch my breath, which was the main thing. When I sat up, that’s when I felt this sharp pain all the way down my back.

“When I got off the field, that’s when it really kicked in. I kind of fell into the (trainer’s) table and I knew something wasn’t right.”

The diagnosis was pretty scary: Bell had fractured a vertebrae in his back. His senior season was over.

The silver lining, though, was that because the injury happened in the fourth game of the season, Bell was eligible to return this fall as a grad student.

Delaware linebacker Charles Bell is helped off the field after breaking his back in a game against James Madison. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

Getting a second chance at his senior year, Bell said he’s never felt better.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m probably in the best shape of my life,” Bell said after the Blue Hens’ held a two-hour practice session on Saturday morning. “I feel good out there running around. I’m doing full contact and everything. My body feels good.

“It’s definitely weird just because I wasn’t planning on being here for five years,” he said. “I’m not glad I got hurt but it’s great to get another year, I get to play with some of my good friends. And I think we have a really good team this year. I think we’re going to go places.”

Without question, Bell’s return adds to Delaware’s experience on defense. This is his third season as a co-captain.

The 6-foot, 230-pounder is also just the fourth Blue Hen linebacker to earn all-conference honors three times in his career. He’s been in on 246 career tackles.

The 6-foot, 230-pound Charles Bell (5) is just the fourth Blue Hen linebacker to earn all-conference honors three times in his career. He’s been in on 246 career tackles.

But even though the prognosis was good for Bell after the injury, Delaware coach Danny Rocco didn’t take anything for granted.
Rocco remembers the first time he saw Bell at spring practice.

“I went up and gave him a big, old hug like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Rocco. “They kept saying he’ll be back, he’ll be OK, he’ll be back, he’ll be OK. But until you actually get out there …

“We had our first short-yardage scrimmage the other day and I was kind of like, ‘Oh boy.’ But he doesn’t look like he’s lost anything. In my mind I haven’t lessened his value in terms of what he’s capable of doing for us on the field.”

Off the field, Rocco says Bell is as valuable as any player Delaware has. The veteran’s return from a serious injury just shows how dedicated he is.

“His presence is extraordinary,” said Rocco. “When you talk about guys who are committed Delaware Blue Hens, he’s at the top of the list. This is an unselfish human being, tough-minded. He’s one of those guys who’s truly in it for all the right reasons.”

Kehoe in the QB picture

Pat Kehoe grew up the son of a high school coach.

Pat Kehoe

So he learned pretty early that football is about the team, not the individual.

“My dad always told me, if you want to think about yourself, go play golf, go swim or play tennis — do something like that,” joked Kehoe, a fourth-year junior quarterback at Delaware. “If you want to play football or basketball, you’ve got to be a team guy.”

While Kehoe has waited seemingly forever to contend for the Hens’ starting QB job, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder only gave a “quick thought” to transferring.

Now the lefthander looks like he’s got a shot at some legitimate playing time. Returning starter J.P. Caruso, who is coming off shoulder surgery, and Kehoe got most of the reps with Delaware’s first-team offense at practice on Saturday.

Boston College transfer Darius Wade is still working himself into the picture.

What Rocco likes is the overall depth at quarterback.

“J.P. certainly has got the experience and is playing well when healthy,” said Rocco. “So with J.P. kind of in and out of the lineup, Pat’s been the most consistent. Darius has shown a real good ceiling but he’s lacked some consistency. He’s probably the guy who’s least comfortable with the offense in this moment.”

Kehoe would like to think he hasn’t changed his approach this season. It’s still about the team, not him.

“I’m just trying to go out there and compete every day,” said Kehoe, whose twin brother, M.J., is a backup tight end for the Hens. “Anybody who plays a position wants to be on the field. But, at the end of the day, I want the team to win.

“If the coaches believe that J.P. gives the team the best shot to win games, I’m 100 percent behind him.”

Extra points

Central York (Pa.) High QB Cade Pribula announced this week that he has verbally committed to Delaware. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior also had offers from Albany and Sacred Heart. … Senior Cam Kitchen, one of Delaware’s few returning defensive linemen, saw some playing time on Saturday as he continues to recover from a foot injury. … Rocco is happy with what he’s seen from Cape Henlopen High grad Brandon Nixon, a third-year defensive lineman. “Brandon has made himself a viable option,” said Rocco. “He has shown durability and dependability. Those are things that get you in football games.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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