Nick Bell passed away Tuesday afternoon. MSU officials confirmed it at 3:35 p.m.
The 20-year-old Mississippi State football player from Bessemer, Ala., died at UAB Medical Center after a brief battle with skin cancer. The team was informed at a meeting this afternoon.
"This is a tragedy for Nick's family, our football program, our community and everyone who had the privilege to meet and be around Nick Bell," coach Dan Mullen said in a statement. "Nick was a son and a brother to our football family and I know he will continue to look over us from heaven. Nick lived his life like a champion and will always be remembered in our hearts that way. During this impossible time, we pray for Nick's family and all those he has touched."
Bell, who was a third-year sophomore defensive end for State, took a turn for the worse over the weekend as the cancer began spreading throughout his body. He was admitted to UAB Hospital, underwent emergency surgery Monday morning, and was put in the intensive care unit.
Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reported that Bell fell into a coma and went on life support. He was taken off and died at 2:20 p.m. "It just got progressively worse every hour, and there was emergency surgery," family friend Moreland Smith told the News.
Bell had what was described as a "mass" removed from his head on Oct. 1, and it was later diagnosed as a form of skin cancer related to a lesion removed from his forehead two years earlier. There was bleeding on the brain prior to the surgery. He was undergoing treatments and was reportedly recovering well, even attending MSU's home game against UAB on Oct. 23.
But on Sunday night, Bell's mother, Linda Bell, told Mullen that Bell had "suffered a setback in his battle with cancer."
Mullen, his wife Megan and several team members visited Bell at the hospital Monday night.
"There are few people in the world who have the unique ability to light up a room," Megan Mullen said. "Nick was one of those extraordinary individuals. Every single one of us in the Bulldogs football family is a better person for having Nick in our lives."
The MSU athletic department will establish a memorial fund for the Bell family through the Bulldog Club. More details will be made available at mstateathletics.com, and donations can be made by calling (662) 325-3074. The school will also send messages and cards to the family, and those can be mailed to P.O. Box 5308, Mississippi State, Miss., 39762.
"Words can't express our sadness," athletics director Scott Stricklin said. "Nick was a model student-athlete – special in the classroom, on the field and to those whose lives he touched. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his teammates and his coaches. He will be missed by the entire Mississippi State community and our athletic department family."
MSU President Mark Keenum also issued a statement: "Nick was an outstanding young man, who proudly represented our university with character and enthusiasm in everything he did. He was an exemplary student-athlete, always giving the maximum effort on the football field and in the classroom. Nick left us too soon, and we mourn his passing, but we also celebrate the impact he made and fondly recount the many lives he touched in our Bulldog family."
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive released a statement, too: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mississippi State’s Nick Bell today. We join the entire MSU family in mourning the loss such of a tremendous young man."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made. Bell is survived by his mother and a sister.
The Bulldogs will still practice today as scheduled, and Mullen will address the media afterwards. Local clergymen and professionals from MSU's Student Counseling Services Office will meet with members of the team.
Bell played in 16 games in his MSU career, with four starts. He recorded a total of 22 tackles and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.
He was sharing duties at right end this season, mostly with junior Sean Ferguson. On Aug. 26, nine days prior to MSU's season opener with Memphis, Bell said, "I just want to go out there and make a name, make sure Mississippi State knows there's more than just one defensive end out there on the field."
That was a reference to left end Pernell McPhee, who deservedly drew a lot of offseason attention. Bell was in no way taking a shot at McPhee, merely exhibiting confidence that he could make a big contribution.
As a senior at Bessemer's Jess Lanier High School, Bell was named honorable mention all-metro by the Birmingham News as a linebacker. He recorded 70 tackles in just six games as Lanier went 10-3 and reached the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
He committed to MSU in November of 2007 and redshirted his first year on campus. In 2009, he played in all 12 games with two starts, recording 15 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. He played in four games this year with two starts and had seven tackles and 2.0 TFLs.
The last game Bell played in was against Georgia on Sept. 25. He recorded no tackles.
Bell was a sports studies and kinesiology major.
Tragedy has visited the MSU football program before. On Aug. 5, 1997, running back Keffer McGee died in a drowning accident at a Starkville apartment complex.