November 3, 2010 9:58:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell''s battle with cancer ended Tuesday, leaving behind grief-stricken family, friends and teammates who will remember a cheerful, passionate and jovial person.
Bell, 20, died Tuesday afternoon after a month-long bout with a form of skin cancer that originated from a mass found on his brain a month ago.
The Bessemer, Ala. native had originally made a slow but steady recovery from his first surgery in early October, even joining the Bulldogs on the sidelines for their win over the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
That changed Sunday night when Bell was rushed into emergency surgery after doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized to other parts of his body.
Bell was in intensive care and was visited by MSU head coach Dan Mullen and teammates Monday. Mullen said Bell was unconscious by the time he visited.
"He was an amazing kid," Mullen said of Bell. "Coach (Matt) Balis and I were talking earlier and he (Balis) said he never came in having a bad day or upset. He always had a smile on his face and was ready to go to work and improve as a football player. If you ever saw his smile, it had the ability to light up a room and he had a great personality to go along with that. He was just a great person to be around. He always lifted up his teammates spirits and just loved to play the game."
Bell was in his third year as a Mississippi State player after signing with the Bulldogs out of Jess Lanier High School. He earned four starts in the 16 career games he played, racking up 22 tackles, including seven this season.
MSU players were told of Bell''s passing at a team meeting Tuesday afternoon. Monday, some of MSU''s players traveled by bus to visit Bell in Birmingham.
Mullen had originally planned to speak to Bell Sunday before a speaking engagement in Birmingham before Bell''s mother, Linda, alerted him of the emergency surgery.
Rather than wait to coordinate a trip to Birmingham on Tuesday, the team was able to visit with Bell on Monday.
"I just did not feel that was fair based on Nick''s situation and how he was doing and he needed his family and his teammates now more than ever," Mullen said. "So we had a team meeting and let everyone know what was going on and at the last second got a bus and loaded up a bunch of guys. It was great for a lot of our players to get to go and see Nick and say their goodbyes. They were able to pray and love Nick and his family in person."
Just 12 days ago Bell joined the team and its gameday hotel and for its pre-game meal before facing UAB. Mullen wanted to keep Bell as close to the team as possible, hoping the positive energy would help him overcome the fear he had when he was originally diagnosed.
"Then his positive outlook took over and he developed an attitude that he would conquer this and overcome what was going on," Mullen said. "That is just who Nick was. We tried to keep him around the team as much as possible even though he had a lot going on. He got to spend a lot of time with his teammates and his family in the last couple weeks of his life and I think that was good for him. I know he will continue to look down and keep an eye on all of us."
The Bulldogs practiced Tuesday afternoon before Mullen met with the media. He described the practice field as a "sanctuary" for coaches and players looking to cope with the loss of Bell.
"Once we got out there, it became very therapeutic for everyone," Mullen said. "It was tough to initially get out there, but I told the guys there is no right or wrong way to act right now. I think keeping the guys in a routine and letting them do the thing they love to do is best for them as each and every one of those players is on an emotional roller coaster right now. For them to be out there and doing what they love for two hours was therapeutic."
Hundreds of MSU fans gathered in the Junction at 7:36 p.m. Tuesday to honor Bell with 36 -- his jersey number -- individual cowbell rings.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced by the family at this time, but the Mississippi State Athletic Department will establish a memorial fund for the Bell family through the Bulldog Club. More details will be available online at www.MStateAthletics.com and donations can be made by calling 662-325-3074. The department will also deliver messages and cards sent to the family. The Athletic Department mailing address is P.O. Box 5308, Mississippi State, MS 39762.