BASKING RIDGE, NJ — Brendan Bell began the spring secure in the knowledge that he had a promising football career that he'd be continuing in college, but unsure of whether he'd ever play baseball again because of the pandemic.
Four months later, Bell, a 2020 Ridge High School graduate, isn't sure when he'll be back out on the gridiron, but he'll finally be taking the baseball diamond Tuesday when the Red Devils baseball team begins play in the Last Dance Tournament -- an event set up to give high school baseball players, particularly 2020 graduates, a chance to play competitive baseball again after they were deprived of that chance when schools and athletic seasons were canceled from mid-March on.
Ridge will play Rutgers Prep in its first Last Dance Tournament game Tuesday at 10 a.m. at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater.
Meanwhile, Bell, who helped guide the Ridge football team to an 8-2 record in 2019 as a quarterback and strong safety, is awaiting word on what will become of the college football season. He committed to Villanova University, where he will play linebacker whenever the sport is given the green light to resume on college campuses.
So, for now, Bell, a football recruit, is back to being a baseball player, and he'll either be pitching or playing third base for the Red Devils this week.
"They don't think we will play a full season, it might just be all conference games," Bell said of Villanova's football season. "As of right now, we go back early in August, best guess."
Bell, who intends to study business at Villanova, will actually play linebacker for the Wildcats after starring at strong safety, quarterback and, as a junior, tight end for the Red Devils.
"I also came down into the box as a linebacker sometimes in high school, so it's not that hard (a transition from strong safety)," Bell said. "I was playing at 205, 210 pounds during the football season, and I'm trying to get to 220 or 225 by the time I play in college."
Bell would have been an integral component in Ridge's 2020 spring baseball season had it proceeded normally. He was part of a large senior contingent with high hopes after the team reached both the Somerset County and Section 2, Group 4 tournament championship games in 2019.
"We played well and we only graduated four seniors," Bell said. "I knew that we'd have some great success and do big things. I like the faster pace of football better, but i have the same passion for baseball."
Bell was a closer on the 2019 Ridge pitching staff, which had two stalwarts in 2019 graduates Cooper Bobowicz and Jack Love. He slots in as a starting pitcher now, even though the right-hander does not have the sophisticated pitching background of some baseball recruits.
"I have no idea how fast my fastball is. I've never been clocked," Bell said. "I'd say the fastball is probably my best pitch. It's the pitch iIcan locate the best, but I also throw a knuckleball if it's good in warmups. I started to throw the knuckleball when I was in middle school. I was fooling around with it and it was actually pretty good. Since then it's gotten progressively better. I use that as a change-up."
During his junior football season, Bell had a spectacular year as a receiver playing tight end, but then-head coach Bill Tracy had plans to move Bell to quarterback in 2019 to replace graduated QB Wes Hudkins. Bell ended up throwing 15 touchdown passes and passing for 1,370 yards as a senior. But because the position demands so much energy and commitment, Tracy initially consulted with Bell about whether he wanted to be rested on defense as a senior, and only play quarterback.
"I like hitting people," Bell said. "My junior year I was a tight end and I hit people in the trenches. they were thinking about not putting me on defense, but I said no, I like the contact. They asked me if I still wanted to play defense. The other juniors could have done a good job in the position, but I wanted to play both ways; it gave us the best opportunity for our team to win."
Tracy retired after the 2019 football season, which ended with Ridge losing, 42-35, in the Section 2, Group 5 semifinals to Clifton.
"I was surprised (Tracy retired). It was very shocking," said Bell, whose brother Ryan was a member of Ridge's undefeated 2013 team under Tracy. "He'd been there for so long. He talked to the whole team about his reasons, and it made sense. It was a lot of fun to play for coach Tracy. My sophomore year, I was really scared of him. He was the head coach, but I built my relationship with him as a junior and season. He is a fun, passionate guy who loves the game of football."
As Bell transitions back to his other love, baseball, this week, he's looking forward to what the team can accomplish.
"It's a great chance for us," Bell said. "We definitely have some unfinished business there. We're eady to go."