ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia will don pads today for the start of full-contact drills, and there are no Bulldogs happier about it than Kendrell Bell.
The former Laney High and current Georgia linebacker is the team's hardest hitter, the player whose knack for inflicting pain causes certain trepidation for receivers cutting across the middle or running backs darting between the tackles.
Few doubt that Bell is the most feared Bulldog. The only question is whether the 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior enjoys his role as team intimidator.
"I don't get off on fear," Bell said before pausing, smiling, then uttering the truth:
"Well, it helps," he said. "It helps me a lot."
Bell's presence will be needed in 2000, when the Bulldogs are expected to contend for an SEC championship. He's listed as the team's starter at middle linebacker, and head coach Jim Donnan put Bell near the top of the list this week when listing the team's leaders.
The 21-year-old Bell said he embraces the role.
"If it's given to me, I must take it," he said. "And I need to show the players that I'm in this for their best interests, and I'm willing to break an arm or a leg."
Bell had yet to play a down of Division I football this time last year, but he proceeded to execute a seamless transition from a two-year career at Middle Georgia College to become an important player in the Bulldogs' defense.
He made his mark quickly in 1999 among a star-studded linebacking corps that returned all three starters, earning his first start in the second game after Will Witherspoon suffered a sprained ankle.
Bell became one of the most intimidating forces on the field thereafter, starting five more games while Witherspoon struggled with injuries. Bell was everywhere, amassing 61 tackles, five sacks, two blocked field goals, three blocked punts, three caused fumbles and three interceptions.
Not bad for a new guy.
"Coming in last year it was kind of stressing, because I had to get to know the personnel, the plays and the performance level of Division I football," said Bell, who is majoring in child and family development. "This year, I've discovered that football is football. People put on their pants just like you put on yours."
But few play like Bell. Serene and measured off the field, Bell is transformed on it, exuding a frenzied, reckless demeanor that has led teammates to give him nicknames such as "Terminator" and "Wild Man"
"As a young person, I get funk, I get hyper, I get everything," said Bell, who amassed 10 tackles in the Bulldogs' 28-25 Outback Bowl victory over Purdue on Jan. 1. "And sometimes it takes people talking to me to calm me down. The game is so competitive, you're bound to lose your self control.
"I don't think anybody stays consistent in their personality because there are different situations. I'm the same way on the field until a tense or adverse situation comes. You just can't maintain a laid-back personality when you've got somebody trying to kill you. It's time to switch."
Donnan made a switch of his own in February, removing defensive coordinator Kevin Ramsey in favor of old Oklahoma buddy Gary Gibbs. Bell said Gibbs' demeanor will help the defense recover from having been among the worst in the SEC in 1999.
"Coach Gibbs takes a more laid back approach," Bell said. "He's educating us about a lot of things. I really enjoyed coach Ramsey, but I believe he was maybe a little younger and too excited."
As for the fear factor:
"I don't think they fear me; they fear the pain," he said. "Maybe they haven't conditioned themselves well. I don't know, but why would you want to get all buffed up and not play hard?"