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November 23, 2005

The right choice

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. - Mark Dell didn't know at the time he was making a decision that would change his life forever.

Three years ago when he decided to try football for a change, the basketball star took the first step toward transforming himself into one of Michigan's top gridiron prospects for the class of 2007.

The move at the time was a risky one because Dell came into his freshman season at Farmington Hills Harrison as a budding basketball star that only had hoop dreams. He hadn't played football before and he wasn't sure how his athletic ability from the court would translate to the football field.

It didn't take long for his coach, John Herrington, to see there was potential. So the coach pushed Dell hard every day in practice and worked him harder than any of the other freshman. There were times where Dell was ready to give in and head back to the hardwood only and lace up his high tops.

But he stuck with it and the end result is one of the top junior receivers in the Midwest.

"It was a tough adjustment, considering this was my first year playing," Dell, who is 6-foot and 165 pounds, said. "He expected so much of me. I guess he pushed me a little harder since he saw a lot of potential in me in the long run. At first there were so many plays, and I didn't get all them. Then as he pushed me and I worked harder, everything started clicking.

"I always liked football, but I never thought I would play. When I came to this school it was primarily for basketball. I saw the potential in myself once I got out there my freshman year."

That potential quickly put him on the varsity roster as a freshman in high school. He said he treated the time as a freshman as a total learning experience, spending most of it Charles Stewart's shadow. Stewart was the team's top player and hot-shot recruit in 2004, so Dell figured he wanted to be the best he'd have to learn from the best.

"I got to see how everything with him went," Dell said. "I got to sit back and analyze everything he did. I took notes about how he caught the ball and how everything ran. It was more like a learning experience for me."

The student quickly became the master.

By his sophomore season he was making an impact with 318 yards receiving, five scores and a 22.7 yard average per catch. He then exploded this season with 43 receptions for 928 yards and 11 scores.

"People say I have great ability to catch," Dell said. "I'm a pretty good defender as well, considering that receiver is my primary position. I think what stands out is my catching ability."

Dell said his favorite route is the fade route. He likes it the best because he can use his basketball skills to go up and out-jump the defender.

"I get to use my basketball skills," Dell said. "That's why it's good for me to play both sports. It's see the ball in the air, I just get in the mind-frame that it's mine. That's when basketball comes in on the football field."

Dell still does have dreams of being a basketball player in college. If he has both offers from Division I schools in both football and basketball, he said he'll have a tough decision to make. But he does admit there's a better shot at him playing football in college now than basketball.

"That's big question mark with me," Dell said. "At first it was basketball, basketball. But now I really get excited about playing football in college. Right now since I'm doing so well in it, I'm starting to like it even more. In college, I'm not really sure what will happen. It's neck and neck what I want to do."

His coach said Dell has an offer already from Michigan State, but the star receiver was unaware of any early offers. He is already getting regular mail from Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Notre Dame and others.

"Not too long ago I got a letter from Miami, so that was a big step for me," Dell said. "In basketball, I'm getting letters from Oakland University, Michigan State and a couple more D-II schools. Right now it seems like I would be going to college for football. That's a question I get all the time. I'm not really sure and it's hard to answer. But it looks like football now."

Dell did attend the Michigan-Michigan State game earlier this year, and he liked what he saw.

"It was a good experience," he said." I got to be on the sideline before the game. I saw how the players prepare themselves for the game and everything. It was a real good experience. I was able to see the coaches and everything.

"I'll be honest - I never would have thought I would have been there on that field a few years ago. I would have never guessed it, but I felt really at home out there with all those guys. I guess you can say I made the right decision when I came out for football."


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