Talented teammates are Buckeye-bound
The walls of Gateway head football coach and athletic director Terry Smith's office are adorned with framed pictures of all the players who have gone on to play Division I college football since he took the helm in 2002.
Under Smith, more than 20 players have earned that distinction, including cornerback Justin King, who starred at Penn State and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. The storied legacy isn't lost on younger players who arrive at Gateway with dreams of joining King and co. on the wall. And seniors Dorian Bell and Corey Brown were no different when they entered the program in the fall of 2005.
Those dreams will soon become a reality for Bell and Brown, who make up arguably the nation's top prep duo in the Class of 2009. Both have committed to NCAA powerhouse Ohio State.
"It's a big honor to be up on that wall," Bell says. "I just wanted to be one of those great guys who went to Gateway."
Bell and Brown have made such an impression on Smith that he calls them two of the best players to ever don Gateway's black and gold. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Bell is rated the nation's No. 4 linebacker and No. 11 overall recruit in the ESPNU 150 after registering 228 tackles and 13 sacks the past two seasons. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound Brown, a cornerback/wide receiver, racked up nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns to go with six interceptions the last two years.
"It doesn't matter what's coming at Dorian, he'll make the play," Smith says. "Dorian has that truck power, but he also has that athleticism that's a wow factor."
"Corey has some of the best ball skills you'll ever see," Smith continues. "Any time the ball is in the area, he knows how to go get it. He's going to stick his nose in there and try to lay the wood on you."
The precocious pair trace their rise to gridiron prominence back to elementary school, when they became friends thanks to a shared passion for competition. Bell and Brown often battled for athletic supremacy, whether it was in a head-to-head sprint or a one-on-one hoops clash.
But it was on the football field where their competitiveness was fiercest. Bragging rights were always on the line in the sport they loved most.
"We've always been competitive because we've always wanted to be better than the other," Brown says.
Even today, Bell and Brown continue to duke it out during Gateway practices and workouts. Smith recalls a team workout last spring where a number of college coaches watched the two go all out, sometimes even breaking into shouting matches.
"They bring out the best in each other," Smith says. "When one is a little tired, the other is going to lay into him so he isn't tired. I love it because I don't have to motivate those two. They understand the big picture."
Smith likes to tell his players that in football, like life, you've got to earn what you get. And having Gateway's underclassmen watch two elite recruits go at it every day in practice shows that the best always stay hungry. Bell learned that the hard way. As an eighth-grader, he was called up to play for the freshman team but only participated in a couple games after breaking his ankle. He figured being called up to freshman ball early meant he was ticketed for JV the next year. However, Smith gave Bell a dose of reality when he kept him on the freshman team because his progression as a player wasn't where the team wanted it. Brown, on the other hand, earned a spot on JV in his freshman season.
The experience woke Bell up in a hurry.
"I wasn't a complete player," says Bell, who will also play running back on offense this fall. "I didn't have my head on right. I was really immature."
"I think playing on the freshman team pissed him off," Smith adds. "We told him he had to prove it."
And Bell did that the following season when he earned a starting spot on varsity at linebacker and tight end. Brown, who impressed on JV his freshman year, was also a two-way varsity starter as a sophomore.
Both delivered solid campaigns that season, but it was last year when they went from good to great. Bell tallied 131 tackles, including 25 for loss, and 11 sacks to earn a spot on both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Terrific 25 teams.
"He's fast, physical and knows a lot about the game," Brown says. "And he's emotional about it -- he'll knock your head off."
Brown, meanwhile, caught 20 passes for 470 yards and three scores on offense and recorded 34 tackles, 23 pass breakups and four picks on defense last fall. He was named to the All-Conference first team along with Bell. Brown, who looks up to NFL All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, will focus on playing corner for the Buckeyes.
"Corey can do anything," Bell says. "He's an all-around athlete."
Gateway finished the 2007 season 11-2 after falling to eventual state champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 35-34, in overtime in the WPIAL Class AAAA finals. It was one of the greatest games in WPIAL history, but the Gators take no solace in that and still have a sour taste in their mouths thinking about what could have been.
"We experienced getting there, but now we want to experience winning there," says Smith, whose team began the year ranked No. 7 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50. "It drives our workouts every day."
Leading the charge are the team's two best players, Bell and Brown, who are constantly looking to improve the team while also battling each other for the upper hand.
But in the end, they'll both reach the same place -- immortalized in a photo on their coach's wall.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.
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