By:  J. Daniel Pearson

Osceola football star Jalen Bell has made his decision and he will become a Shark.  

During a Friday afternoon ceremony at the his high school gym, Bell announced he has accepted a grant-in-aid to play college football for the Long Island University Sharks – an FCS Division-1 school and a member of the Northeastern Conference.

“It basically came down to a comfort level,” Bell said in making the announcement.  “I just felt that it was the absolute right place for me.  They have excellent facilities, great academics and the coaches made me feel wanted. I just fell in love with the place when I made my official visit.”

Long Island made the jump from Division-II to Division-1 a couple of years ago but the school has a long history in the sport — having played college football since the 1920s.  Historically, they have won 18 conference championships all-time and qualified for the NCAA playoffs eight times since 2002.

Bell said LIU head coach Ron Cooper and his assistants have indicated they want him to play a hybrid position with the Sharks, which would be nothing new for Bell.  In the past two years he has lined up at safety, cornerback, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, edge rusher and even punted.  “One of the things I liked about playing for Osceola and I got a chance to play all over the field.  It made the game a lot of fun and I sort of like the idea of doing the same at the next level.”

A two-time All-County selection and 2023 County Defensive Player of the Year, Bell played an integral role in Osceola’s District championship and their 17th consecutive FHSAA playoff appearance.   . He finished the season with 60 total tackles to go with 10 tackles-for-loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 2 blocked kicks, 3 pass defenses and a team-high six interceptions.  He returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns.

“If I could have 40 Jalen Bells on the roster, my job would be really easy,” Osceola coach Eric Pinellas said.  “He not only gives you everything he has on Friday night, he gives you everything he has at practices and film sessions the rest of the week.   Long Island is not only getting a great player, they are getting a great individual.”  

Defensive coordinator Brad Lennox concurred.  “When you look at all positions, we’ve had some freakish good athletes play football at Osceola High and I can honestly tell you Jalen is one of those guys.  He’s a great athlete and he works his tail off.  I said all along that the college willing to give him a chance is going to get a great football player and LIU was smart enough to give him that chance.”

In other county football news, the FHSAA announced this week that they were scrapping the Metro-Suburban classification model and going back to eight classifications based solely on enrollment.  

What will be different is the makeup of the districts as it obtains to the assigned districts of county teams.  Last year, Osceola, Tohopekaliga, St. Cloud and Celebration all played in 4 Suburban, District 10; while Harmony played in 4S, District 11.   Liberty and Gateway were 3S, District 8 and Poinciana played as an independent.

Under the changes, Tohopekaliga, Celebration and Harmony will play in Class 7A, District 10.  Cypress Creek and Lake Nona will form the rest of the district.

Osceola, which is about 100 students short of 7A classification, will join St. Cloud in Class 6A, District 5 with Viera, Melbourne and Freedom.   Gateway and Liberty have elected to join Poinciana and go the Independent route for the next two years.

Had Gateway and Liberty remained within a district, they most likely would have been stuck in the same district they were last year with state powers Lake Region, Lake Wales and Auburndale. Selecting the independent route makes some sense for both schools, as Gateway and Liberty went a combined 0-16 against the rest of the district and were outscored 684-68 over the past two years.   

Schools will have until mid-January to appeal and/or request a change in both their class and district.  It’s something St. Cloud Athletics Director Bryan Smart says his school may consider.  “We’re really close to the 5A threshold and moving down would have its advantages, but there are a lot of other considerations that would factor into any appeal,” Smart said.  “I will sit down with our principal and Coach Short after the first of the year and we’ll come to a consensus on whether we want to appeal or not.  From a historical prospective, we’ve had Melbourne and Viera in our district before and we always play Osceola so if we stay put, this would be nothing really new to us.”