Mullen spoke to media Tuesday evening in the aftermath of the death of Nick Bell. The defensive end and native of Bessemer, Ala., passed away mid-afternoon at UAB Hospital, from cancer. He was 20 years old.
Bell had undergone emergency surgery last month to remove a mass on his brain, which proved to be related to a skin lesion removed some years before. He was able to appear at the UAB game two weeks ago in sweats and game jersey. Bell was at home Sunday preparing to begin chemotherapy this week when severe headaches sent him to the hospital. Taken then to UAB Hospital another emergency procedure relieved pressure on the brain, but examinations revealed another tumor.
Bulldog players were taken to Birmingham on Monday for a last visit with their teammate. Mullen informed players today at 1:00 that Bell was not going to survive; then from then until 3:30 the locker room and team room were opened for players to circulate among themselves as well as speak if they wished to ministers, grief counselors, coaches wives, and others. It was at 3:30 that the Bulldogs were told, officially, of Bell’s passing.
From there they went to practice as close to as-usual as practical under the circumstances. As Mullen described it, this gave the players a sort of sanctuary and let them do what they came to campus to do. Mullen invited as many players as wished to come to his home this evening where food and fellowship was available, but this was optional.
Mississippi State is looking at plans for an on-campus recognition of Bell, perhaps on Wednesday; and there will be an on-field remembrance at the next home game on November 20. The Athletic Department will establish a memorial fund for the Bell family through the Bulldog club with details forthcoming through the official site www.mstateathletics.com. Donations can also 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 PO Box 5308, Mississippi State, MS, 39762.
Bell played in 16 career games with four starts. He played in the first four games of this season with starts against Auburn and Georgia. He had 22 career tackles, seven this season.
Mullen’s comments to media this evening follow:
“Obviously it’s a difficult time for our football gamily. It’s a very, very difficult time for Nick Bell and his family. For what he’s meant to all of us, the impact he’s made on everyone’s life and all of our players. If you got to know him and spend any time with him, you saw he never had a bad day. He always loved to come out and be around his teammates, and loved to play football.”
“You could see in the last couple of weeks, spending some time with his family, how much he impacted their lives and all the special things he meant to them. All our prayers are obviously with his family at home right now through all the difficult things that they are doing.”
“Our football team I know is hurting right now. They’re learning how to cope. We have a lot of young men 18-to-22 years old that are learning to deal with grief like this for the first time. Our coaching staff, we’re trying to be there for them.”
“In this football family Nick was a son, and his brothers were everybody in this football family. I know he’s looking down on us right now. I’m sure he’s already been picked for a team up in Heaven and he’ll be playing football again, a game that he loved.”
“We went out today and practiced. That’s the sanctuary I know for our coaches, for our players, for this football family to be out on that field together doing the thing we love most and I know Nick Bell loved the most. It kind of felt good to sweat out some of the feelings and the emotions that are inside. But I know he’ll be with us in spirit and looking down in it, and has his arms around this football team and this football family. And I know he’s left his mark on a lot of people in this world and done a lot of amazing things.”
Q: How hard was it out at practice today? “I think it was very therapeutic for our guys, once we got out there. It was tough initially just getting out there. But we told our team there’s no right or wrong way to feel or right or wrong way to act right now. I think keeping the routine for our guys and letting them do the thing they love was good. You could see times where guys were in an emotional roller-coaster during their practice. But for them to be out there doing what they love for two hours, getting in our special world that we have on the field, was therapeutic to a lot of those guys.”
Q: When was the last time you spoke to him? “Sunday evening. I knew I had to speak in Birmingham Monday, and I knew they were looking at him starting chemotherapy this week. So we were planning on going out there, and Megan came out there with me. The plan was we were going to meet up, I was going to the Touchdown Club, we’d go out have a late lunch afterwards and just get to spend some time together, before that happened. His Mom called Megan later Sunday evening and said they were rushing him over to the hospital.”
Q: Have you ever lost a player before? “We have. We lost scout team quarterback at Florida in a motorcycle accident, during our bye week. It was a very tough thing, it was very hard for our players.”
“I tried to put a lot in perspective of when I was in college, a guy I was close friends with, that a lot of us were friends with, passed away while we were in college. And I tried to think back and draw on the emotions I had as an 18-to-22-year old. This process I think is not good for anybody, not easy for anybody. But also we need to be there for our players and for Nicks family. That’s our job, because the emotions I think they go through. As I think back to the time I had to do it when I was young. The emotional roller coaster you go through is hard to comprehend sometimes.”
“We build these guys up to be big, fast, strong, tough; they feel like they try to feel invincible, that they can do anything in this world. And when they see this situation it’s just a tidal wave of emotions that urns through our players.”
Q: You saw him ten days ago on the sidelines, how good was that? “I remember being thrilled that he was on the sidelines with us. He came to the hotel, he rode the bus over, he came over to the pregame meal and rode the team bus over there. It was just great to have him back on the sidelines. We wanted to give him a lot to fight for, to be back part of this football team, he was always a part of the team. And let him know that everybody believed he would be back on that sideline in full pads and not just in his jersey. It was great having him there and he was such a great kid…a great man actually. We knew he’d fight with everything he had.”
Q: A lot of the team bussed over last night to Birmingham, did the players get something from that? “Yeah. I went over there during the day, we stopped by the hospital to see the family. And after visiting with them I didn’t want to wait, we called back over here. Originally we were going to go back this morning with team. And after leaving the hospital I thought, that’s not fair. With how Nick was, he needed his family and teammates round him. So we had a team meeting and let everybody know what was going on.”
“We found a bus and looking a the bus didn’t know if it was going to make it there, it was a last-second thing. We rounded up a bunch of guys, and it was great. A lot of our players got to go and see the situation and say their goodbyes and pray and give all their love to Nick and his family at the time.”
Q: What did the doctors tell you, why it worked the way it did? “We know very little for me to speak on. We’ll have some of the doctors, if the family wishes, expand on it. We got a call Friday that they had done some tests, and that the cancer had metastasized through his body, they said he was going to have to go through chemotherapy. We found out there were more tumors and bleeding in his brain, and another one that had just come up I think really very rapidly. They did what they could to relieve pressure on the brain. Then they did the surgery as best they could.”
“But that is as much as we really knew. The doctors didn’t get into specifics with me, they just said the outlook wasn’t good.”
Q: He was unconscious the whole time you were there? “Yes.”
Q: Are there any plans to honor Nick? “We’re going to discuss with the family. Probably tomorrow, sit down and we’ll have a discussion with the family and come up with several different ways we feel are the best to honor Nick, and see what the family wishes to do.”
Q: Can you talk about Nick’s personality? “He was an amazing kid. Coach (Matt) Balis and I were talking, he never came in having a bad day. He never came in upset, never came in with anything but a smile on his face, to go to work and to play. You see his smile and his ability to light up a room and his personality, just a great person to be around at all times. He was always someone who was going to lift his teammate’s spirits. And he loved to play the game. It’s hard to find somebody that has such a positive outlook in everything they’re doing, and he had that. He had that positive outlook of every day whether it was working out, running springs, talking about going to school, going to class, getting his degree. Things that he wanted to achieve in life. He always had a very positive outlook on all the great things he wanted to do.”
“And I’ll say this, he accomplished a lot of that. For a 20-yard old to accomplish all the things he did in life, and impact as many people’s lives as he had, that’s pretty remarkable.”
Q: What did you see from him during this process? “You know what, it’s hard. Obviously a scared young man at first, as anyone would be. And then someone that had the positive outlook, that he had all our support and he would accomplish it; he would find a way to be victorious over what was going on. That’s how he was. We tried to keep him around the team as much as possible, keep him with us as much as possible. I know he had a lot going on, and I think he got to spend a lot of good time with guys on the team and a lot of great time with his family over the last couple of weeks.”
“And I know he’ll continue look down over all of us.”