Quinton Bell used to rely on a dirt bike to generate speed. In two years, he's learned how to use his own set of wheels to break away in a different sport.
Bell is the fastest football player at Costa Mesa High. When he arrived last year as a junior, Bell says he felt awkward when he moved. No longer could he just straddle a bike and apply the throttle as he did when he competed in motocross.
Bell strapped on a different helmet, one with bars. He began his second year of playing tackle football.
The first year, while a sophomore at powerhouse Long Beach Poly, Bell says it didn't go so well. Hard to imagine, since his uncle, Nick Bell, played in the NFL.
Nevertheless, football wasn't the young Bell's top sport growing up.
"I went in clueless, not knowing the game," says Bell, who knew more about motocross, a sport his father, Aaron Bell, introduced him to at age 9 by buying dirt bikes one Christmas. "It was tough because [at Long Beach Poly], you know, a lot of kids, you know, have played football for years. Those are the kids that played Pop Warner and everything. I didn't play Pop Warner and all that. That was my first year."
That first year playing tackle football led to Bell moving to try the sport at a different school.
Nick Bell played a role in getting his nephew to Costa Mesa. He volunteered as an assistant coach two years ago.
"My uncle was coaching here and he was telling me how good the program is, you know, how [there are] great opportunities to come here and play," Bell says. "Where I was, I was playing football and I was running track, but, you know, I wasn't really doing as good as, you know, I should've been doing."
Bell says he and his family decided to move to Costa Mesa before his junior year. All the tools, Coach Wally Grant says, were there for Bell to develop into a major player. The tall and fast teenager just looked very raw to Grant.
In Bell's second season with the Mustangs, he had to wait some time, because of two injuries, before unveiling how far he has come. He has turned into a force as a senior with his 6-foot-3, 205-pound athletic frame and his 11-second 100-meter track speed.
Last week, Bell played in only his fourth game of the year. Each time he has made it onto the field, Costa Mesa has prevailed.
The latest win resulted in the Mustangs clinching at least a share of the Orange Coast League title. Bell proved to be a difference maker on both sides of the ball during the first-place showdown with Calvary Chapel that Costa Mesa won, 58-41, at Jim Scott Stadium. He caught touchdown passes of 60 and six yards as a wide receiver, and intercepted a pass and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown as an outside linebacker.
The Mustangs (6-3, 4-0 in league) are guaranteed two more games, the league finale at Laguna Beach on Friday at 7 p.m. and a first-round game in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs next week. With five games lost because of two injuries, Bell hopes to prolong the season for the sake of the team and his recruitment.
The season began on a bad note for Bell, who had schools like Arizona State, Utah and Nevada interested in him.
During a preseason scrimmage against Duarte, Bell went down with a hip flexor injury on the team's second play from scrimmage. He says he tore a muscle in his right hip just before he completed a 65-yard touchdown catch. The setback sidelined him for the first four games of the season.
Then in his second game back, Bell suffered a partially collapsed lung. He says he struggled breathing after he returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown late, helping clinch the Mustangs' 31-18 win against Estancia in the Battle for the Bell rivalry.
While the rest of the team went out to celebrate and eat ribs at a restaurant for beating Estancia for the first time in four years, Bell rode in an ambulance to a hospital to find out why he couldn't breathe. His own ribs, Bell says, had something to do with it.
"It was because of the hit to the [left side of my] ribs," says Bell, referring to when a teammate collided with him while trying to block an extra-point kick earlier in the game. "At first [the doctors] thought [my inability to breathe] might've been spontaneous. Luckily it wasn't spontaneous. They were telling me if it was spontaneous then it could happen again."
What Bell says he asked the doctors next was when he would be able to play football again. The road to recovery would be fast, he says the doctors told him. He only had to sit out one game.
After spending three days in the hospital, Bell says all he wanted to do was sit.
"Walking again felt like baby steps," Bell says. "Every move I took, it hurt to walk."
Out of the football-related injuries Bell has suffered, he says none compare to the one in motocross, coming off a jump that kept him off his feet for weeks.
During a race, Bell says he fell off his bike from about four stories high, pretty much ending his motocross career at age 13. Somehow, he says, he landed on his feet, only to fracture a lower disc in his back.
Bell gave up competitive riding because of the experience and the dangers. He still has the Kawasaki KLX 450R bike. The last time he rode it, he says, was about a year ago.
"There's nothing like riding a dirt bike," Bell says.
The closest thing for Bell might be racing into the end zone. When there is space, he can flat out fly.
Born: May 9, 1996
Hometown: Long Beach
Weight: 205 pounds
Coach: Wally Grant
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie: "Friday Night Lights"
Favorite athletic moment: "My pick six in the Battle for the Bell."
Week in review: Bell caught two passes for touchdowns, including a 60-yarder, and intercepted a pass and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown, helping Costa Mesa clinch at least a share of the Orange Coast League title with a 58-41 win against Calvary Chapel.