In the West Catholic Athletic League — a collection of high schools that could rival any in the state of California in terms of sheer competitiveness — having star-quality athletes is essential for teams looking to rise above the rest of the talent-heavy field.
Riordan High School has one of those players in senior Darius Bell, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior quarterback-safety whose versatility has been the driving force behind his team’s 3-1 start.
After starting the season slow, Bell has exploded. Commanding a spread offense seldom seen in prep football, Bell completed 26 of 45 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in Riordan’s last two games — wins over Burbank of Sacramento and Sacred Heart Cathedral. For the season, Bell has six touchdowns, no interceptions and 503 yards passing and he leads the Crusaders with 269 yards rushing.
Riordan kicks off its WCAL season on Friday at 7 p.m. at Kezar Stadium against city rival St. Ignatius.
Last year was Bell’s first with Riordan after transferring in from Drake High School in San Anselmo and his initial season helming the Riordan offense yielded uneven results — the Crusaders shocked WCAL co-champ Serra 38-14, but they still finished a disappointing 2-4 in league play. With a slew of skill players coming back, including all-league wide receiver Daniel Cannon, expectations are decidedly higher for Bell and his squad heading into the WCAL opener.
“I’ve got great chemistry with my wide receivers this year,” said Bell, who threw for eight touchdowns last year as the starter. “We worked real hard this summer learning our offense and preparing for this season. I think everyone feels comfortable now with what they’re doing, and we have confidence that we can be successful in the WCAL.”
Bell has a particularly tight connection with Cannon, the senior who leads the Crusaders with 16 catches for 344 yards. Over their past two games, the duo has hooked up 13 times for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a great leader for us,” said Cannon, himself a Division I-bound talent. “It takes a lot of passion and responsibility to lead a team as a quarterback and he’s come through for us so many times, whether it’s making plays with his feet or his arm.”
Bell developed his rapport with teammates including Cannon by leading the Crusaders through their up-and-down season last year. With that experience under his belt, he’s now one of the veteran quarterbacks in the rugged WCAL.
“I can’t tell you how big it is for us to have an experienced quarterback in this league,” Riordan coach Mike Langridge said. “He’s made great strides and improvements and the guys on this team see that and respect him for all the hard work he’s put in.”
As a witness to all of Bell’s hard work, Langridge is a firm believer that his quarterback is capable of succeeding at the next level. Several Pac-10 Conference schools are recruiting Bell as a safety and running back, but his main goal is to play quarterback for a major-college football program.
He is fortunate enough to get some unique advice during his recruitment process — his brother Kahlil is the starting running back for UCLA.
“I talked to Kahlil and he told me to be patient and wait for the right offer,” said Bell, who is scheduled to visit his brother and go on a recruiting visit this weekend at UCLA, which plays NotreDame. “UCLA was the only school that offered him a scholarship as a running back and that worked out for him, so I’m waiting for the same kind of offer for me as a quarterback. In the end, I’ll be happy anywhere, because basically I just want to keep playing football.”