For the past couple of years, the running joke around Mineral was that Malik Bell kept lining up at the wrong position.
“We made fun of him, like, ‘anywhere else you should be playing left guard,’ ” Louisa offensive coordinator Will Patrick said of his starting quarterback. “And defensive tackle.”
Bell first came to view his heft as a hindrance on the hardwood. A small forward for Louisa’s basketball team last winter, he struggled to lug his 260-pound frame up and down the court.
“I didn’t have good footwork and people were just passing me with ease,” he said. “I realized if I dropped the weight, I’d become faster, and that’s what I had to do.”
By eliminating bread, fried foods and sweets from his diet, the 6-foot-1 Bell shed 45 pounds over the summer. Not coincidentally, his weight loss tipped the scales in the Lions’ favor when football season rolled around.
A svelte Bell has tormented defenses with his legs and right arm alike during Louisa’s perfect 9–0 run. On Friday, the dual threat totaled five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) in the Lions’ 62–27 thrashing of Charlottesville, a fat stat line that earned him Free Lance-Star player of the week honors.
“It gives other people the opportunity to know that I’m just not a big blob running up and down the field,” said Bell, “that [I’m] able to break a tackle or run away with my speed now.”
Against the Knights, Bell rushed for 102 yards on eight carries. He misfired just once and connected with six different receivers. But it was a throw Bell didn’t make that convinced Patrick of his continued progress as a passer.
“We ran a certain play where if we ran it 10 times, he would’ve thrown it to the outside receiver nine times in years’ past, but the defense took it away so he hit the underneath guy,” Patrick said. “That just shows his maturity right there, that he’s able to see his checkdowns and put the ball on the money, too. A lot more than three steps and chucking it.”
Louisa’s single-wing attack doesn’t rest entirely on Bell’s still-burly right shoulder. He’s flanked by a surefire 1,000-yard back in Job Whalen, and the Lions boast a plethora of playmakers on offense. But Bell wasn’t content to ride their coattails heading into his senior campaign.
He spent countless hours honing his craft with Patrick during the summer, running ladder drills to boost his agility and dodging kickballs in the pocket to prep for a pass rush. What Bell has gained in speed, he hasn’t sacrificed in strength: he still squats more than 500 pounds and his bench press max is in the vicinity of 300.
It’s proven a potent blend. Heading into Friday’s season finale at Fluvanna, Bell has carried 118 times for 921 yards (a 7.8 average) with 13 TDs and added an additional 10 scores through the air.
“We’re not trying to be Joe Montana out there, but to make yourself a viable threat as a thrower,” Louisa coach Mark Fischer said. “And he’s thrown some darts this year and some really nice deep balls. He’s really just gotten a feel for it. Before, he was a fullback playing quarterback. Now, he’s a quarterback playing quarterback.”
At 215 pounds, Bell feels like one, too. Not that dropping all that weight was easy. He can’t count the times his teammates invited him out to McDonald’s following a particularly grueling practice or conditioning session.
“And I’d say no, I’m going to get me a salad or a little protein bar,’” Bell said. “I had to change how I did things.”
- Jaylen Alexander, Orange RB: Rushed for 177 yards and 2 TDs vs. Monticello
- Devyn Ford, North Stafford RB: 16 carries for 137 yards and 2 TDs vs. Riverbend
- D’Ago Hunter, Eastern View DB: Returned a punt for a TD, added rushing TD vs. James Monroe
- Joshua Lawrence, Brooke Point WR: five catches for 115 yards and a TD vs. Stafford
- Christian Mora, Chancellor LB: Returned a fumble for a TD, recorded an interception vs. Spotsylvania
- Josh Sarratt, Colonial Forge WR: 3 receptions for 104 yards and a TD vs. Mountain View
- Job Whalen, Louisa RB: Scored 4 TDs (three rushing, one receiving) vs. Charlottesville
- Zin White, Courtland RB: Rushed for 184 yards and scored four TDs vs. Caroline