Leo Bell has taken the not-so-familiar path from nose guard to inside linebacker on Fenwick High School’s football team.
The 5-foot-8, 230-pound senior doesn’t see it as a terribly unconventional move, at least not for him.
“I was a fast nose guard,” Bell said, “so it was pretty easy switching up.”
He’s been part of 17 tackles in the first two games of the season for the Falcons, who are off to a 2-0 start after conquering 2017 playoff teams Anna and Belmont.
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Bell is a two-way starter who plays offensive guard, and he’s impressed first-year Fenwick coach Dan Haverkamp.
“He’s been arguably our best defensive player through two weeks, and going into the season, I wouldn’t have projected that from him with the position change,” Haverkamp said. “He really hasn’t played linebacker full time since his freshman year, but his instincts have been incredibly good.
“He reads the run very well. He diagnoses where it’s coming from. He’s a stout player, so he’s able to stack blocks and to shed and to be in a position to make the tackle. And when he does, he finishes.”
Bell said he had to make some changes in his position switch, and they were changes he was committed to.
“I always wanted to be a middle linebacker,” Bell said. “They lead … I’m a leader. So I got faster, lost a little weight and just started watching film.”
Bell & Co. figure to get their biggest challenge of the year to date Friday night when 2017 Division IV state runner-up Clinton-Massie comes to Krusling Field.
Massie — also the Falcons — opened with a 77-7 thrashing of East Clinton, then dropped a 31-28 decision at Coldwater in a matchup of small-school heavyweights.
“We’re hyped for this one,” Bell said. “This 2-0 is really making us feel like we can do what we want to do. We have fun, but we get the job done.”
The two schools have met just once before in football. Fenwick defeated Massie 10-3 in overtime in the 2015 D-V, Region 14 championship game at Xenia.
Massie is still in D-IV and has 37 more boys than Fenwick in the most recent Ohio High School Athletic Association enrollment numbers. Thanks to competitive balance, FHS has moved up to Division III.
“Anna and Belmont were good teams. Now we’re facing a team that has state championship expectations, and we’ll see where we stack up,” Haverkamp said. “Our players seem ready to rise to the challenge.”
This is Dan McSurley’s 23rd season as Massie’s head coach. As usual, his Falcons like to run the ball out of the wishbone and play smashmouth football.
Junior tailback Brendan Lamb (5-10, 185), a transfer from Lebanon, leads Massie with 253 yards and six touchdowns on 32 carries. Senior Corey Stulz (6-1, 175) is the returning quarterback, and senior Tyler Beam (5-11, 210) is a standout fullback/middle linebacker.
“We’re the same old team we’ve been for the last 20 years,” McSurley said. “We’ve got pretty good size up front, and we’re going to throw the ball maybe 10 times a game if we’re lucky.”
Fenwick came up with five interceptions in its first meeting with Massie.
“We tried to throw the damn ball. That was the dumb head coach right there,” McSurley said. “If I had it to do all over again, I totally would not have done that. But it’s a credit to Fenwick. They had a really stout defense that year.”
McSurley said last week’s weather-delayed game at Coldwater didn’t end until around 1 a.m. He said it was about a five-hour round trip for Massie.
“I was prepared to stay until the morning if we had to. We certainly weren’t going to go home and drive five hours again the next day,” McSurley said. “The lightning was about 100 miles away. It was heat lightning, and literally there were stars in the sky. But unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of common sense in Ohio high school football, so they’ll go ahead and delay it if there’s heat lightning. It was real frustrating. We literally had kids camping out and sleeping in the locker room waiting on the kickoff after the delay.
“It was a pretty miserable day all the way around, but sometimes misery has the most meaning. We’ll see what happens.”
He said Massie has a difficult time trying to find nonleague opponents, so he was happy to add Fenwick to the schedule. Massie is expected to bring a large contingent of fans to Krusling Field.
“In terms of the matchup, we’re just totally different styles,” McSurley said. “Fenwick runs the spread, but they run the ball a lot. It looks like they’re a big-play type of team. We’re going to have to do a good job on the back end of the defense and keep everything in front of us.”
Haverkamp said Fenwick has already faced two run-heavy teams, so preparing for Massie isn’t all that different.
“Take away a couple big plays and I thought we played really, really well defensively against Belmont,” Haverkamp said. “Belmont’s a very tricky team with a very unique double-wing offense. They turned the ball over like crazy in Week 1, but they got that cleaned up against us.”
Fenwick is down three starters because of injuries — running back/linebacker Caleb Davis, linebacker Anthony Crisci and cornerback Jake Berning. Haverkamp said all three are out for an extended period of time, though not for the entire season.
“We’ve asked new guys to step in and fill those roles, and they’ve stepped up to the challenge,” Haverkamp said. “But there’s no question these extended injuries have really put a strain on our depth.”
What: Clinton-Massie (1-1) at Fenwick (2-0), 7 p.m.
Where: Krusling Field, 4855 State Route 122, Middletown
Series: Fenwick leads 1-0 and won 10-3 in overtime in the 2015 Division IV playoffs