October 28, 2009 9:23:00 AM
During spring football drills, University of West Alabama sophomore Ricky Bell was moved from wide receiver to free safety.
Bell has adjusted to the change and has found a home in the secondary at the school in Livingston, Ala.
Bell, a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High School, has earned a starting position after making the switch.
"For his first year playing in the secondary, I think he''s had an excellent year," said West Alabama coach Bobby Wallace, who was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 1986. "I think Ricky has gotten better as the year has gone along. After nine games in his first year in the secondary, I''d say he''s had a very good year, and I think he''ll only get better with time."
Bell, a 5-foot-11, 172-pounder, has embraced the move for the Tigers, who are 5-4 after winning their first three games of the season. He hasn''t intercepted a pass, but he''s among the team leaders in tackles with 32 (18 solos).
He had five solo tackles and two assisted tackles against Harding in the second game of the season. He followed that with six solos and five assists the next weekend against Arkansas Tech.
"It has worked out real smooth," Bell said of moving to defense. "I played wide receiver as a true freshman, but the coaches talked to me and told me they needed me to move over and help out on the defensive side of the ball.
"I didn''t mind at all. I told the coach I would do whatever it took to win. (Coach Wallace) told me I could move over and make a big impact."
Bell is starting despite being plagued by a groin injury. He missed games against Valdosta State and Lambuth College, but returned to action against Delta State and has played the past three games.
"He''s been battling a pulled groin muscle for most of the year, but he''s fought through it and played very well," Wallace said. "There''s a good chance he might have what they call a sports hernia because it''s not really getting well. But he''s fighting through it and playing well and doing a good job for us."
Bell returned to the starting lineup when he returned from his injury. He said he''s playing at about 85 percent since returning to action..
"I''ve just got to tough it out because I really want to go to the playoffs," Bell said. "I just want to try to tough it out and get a ring."
After returning from his injury, Bell had two solos and two assists against Delta State and two solos against Arkansas-Monticello and West Georgia.
Bell''s ability to make tackles has impressed Wallace.
"You don''t have to be as physical as the old safety position, but at the same time Ricky is a good tackler," Wallace said. "He does not mind contact. When he was playing wide receiver, he was one of our better blockers. He''s a physical guy who can cover a lot of ground and he has good instinct, and those are all qualities of a good defensive back."
Bell''s goal is to continue to contribute when West Alabama plays hosts to Quachita Baptist on Saturday for its homecoming and when it travels to North Alabama for its final game of the regular season.