Last August, Duquesne linebacker Dorian Bell said he had never felt faster or stronger than he was at that point in time.
"I'm sending a message if people are doubting me," he said. "I'm going to succeed."
They were big words for this Gateway High School graduate and former Post-Gazette Player of Year. He was a consensus five-star recruit out of high school, among the best linebackers in the country. He was recruited to and played for Ohio State.
But amid suspensions and the infamous tattoo parlor scandal that wound up costing coach Jim Tressel his job, Bell's dream came crashing down.
Bell returned home and landed at Duquesne, where he has been carving out a new niche for himself. He stayed true to his word last season, his second with the Dukes, earning third-team NCAA Division I-AA All-American honors from The Sports Network, an authority on such matters, and first-team All-Northeast Conference by the coaches.
Bell's hard work continues to be rewarded. Last week he was named a first-team I-AA Preseason All-American by The Sports Network, regarding him as one of the four best linebackers in the country playing outside Division I-A.
He was also placed on the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, which is presented by The Sports Network to the outstanding defensive player in the I-AA and named in honor of the former Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman and Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee.
The awards are also noteworthy for Duquesne, which has never had a first-team Preseason All-American, at least not since the school resurrected its football program in the 1969. But at 22, Bell is able to put a preseason award into a little more perspective.
"It's just a stepping stone," he said. "I appreciate the award, but it's nothing to me if I don't make it to where I want to be as a person and a football player.
"It definitely was a surprise to me. I had people text me, calling me saying 'Congratulations,' and I'm like, 'Congratulations on what?' My focus isn't really on that award. I'm just trying to stay focused on this coming season and spending time with my son and my family."
Dorian Jr. is going on 4 years old and may be one of the more distinguishable faces in the stands when Duquesne opens against Albany on Aug. 31. It's often hard to tell who's who on the football field in a mess of bodies and jerseys, but Bell is the type of player whose speed burst immediately distinguishes him from other players as well, Dukes coach Jerry Schmitt said.
But top-level talent or not, bringing Bell into the program wasn't an easy decision.
"It was a calculated risk," Schmitt said. "When we met with him when he first came to campus ... we sat down with him and grilled him, wanted to know what he was about. We saw something in him that we knew he had potential to be a part of our program.
"We saw something in him that he had the potential to not only be a great football player, but be a good student and a good person. We're very pleased with his progress in that sense. He's been a good teammate."
Bell, who is majoring in communication with a minor in sociology, plans to graduate in December. He hears whispers about the chance to play football beyond college, but says right now all he's worried about is winning at Duquesne.
"I hear different types of things and [playing professionally] is a possibility, but I'm not really focused on possibilities right now. What I'm focused on is taking everything one day at a time and my workouts leading up to the first game, and trying to help get the team on the right track."
The "right track" means getting back to the winning ways of the 2011 season, where Duquesne and Albany were named NEC co-champions. And for Bell's third and final season, he wants a championship.
"A lot of people are going to be surprised by what we got this year. We're going to come out really strong and I think were going to finish really strong," Bell said, hinting at the disappointment of losing five of the last six games last season after starting 4-1. Then he upped the ante.
"I think we're honestly going to go all the way," Bell said. "The only way we wouldn't go all the way is if we beat ourselves."
Nick Veronica: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @NickVeronica.