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Home News-Telegram Sports Gentle giant brings message to Cumby

Gentle giant brings message to Cumby

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    CUMBY — Students at Cumby got to hear a powerful message from a mountain of a man.

    Former Greenville All-State football star and currently Carolina Panther offensive lineman Byron Bell visited the school on Jan. 24.
    “He loved it. He liked playing with the kids and talking to them. He treated them like buddies. He’s a gentle giant,” said Tom Dracos, Cumby head football coach and athletic director.
    Dracos and Bell have a special bond the two started when Dracos was an assistant coach in Greenville some eight years ago.
    “Byron was just a big kid wondering the halls at Greenville,” Dracos said of the 6-5, 350-pound NFL lineman. “Then he had no direction and we helped him.”
    Bell found direction in athletics and soon was focusing on sports which he also translated in getting a college education.
    Bell, perhaps one the largest persons to major in elementary education, got to visit with Cumby students from pre-K to high school at Dracos’  recent invitation.
    “He spoke to the younger kids about doing well at school and listening to their teachers,” Dracos said. “Some of the things I talk about, but they listened when it came from him.”
    Dracos said with a laugh, “Byron became a human jungle gym in the Pre-K class, they climbed all over him. They had not seen a person that large.”
    Bell also spoke to high school students and got their attention with how he overcame personal tragedy.
    “His house burned down and his brother died. He has had some obstacles to overcome,” Dracos said. “Bryon  told them about that, because he has lived it. I think his message to them can change  lives. They are still talking about him days later. He feels blessed and wants to help others.”
    Dracos said he can remember the path Bell took at Greenville to rise from being a student who lacked direction to an NFL player.
    “He was at 290-pounds when he first started and could bench press about 175 pounds. Later he could bench 385 and squat 650 or more,” Dracos said. “He accomplished that through hard work and dedication.”
    Dracos said stories like the successful turnaround of Bell is one of the reason he has enjoyed his 11 years as a coach.
    “Bryon went from being a kid who’d had a tough life into a changed person,” Dracos said. “Bell had trouble trusting men, but gave it another change through athletics.”
    Dracos and Bell worked together and the young man grew into a player who had 136 pancake blocks and named first team all-state.
    Dracos said, “He also turned around his academics and got on track. He earned a 21 on his ACT and signed a scholarship with the New Mexico.”
    “Byron is nine hours short of his degree at the University of New Mexico and will graduate soon. I will be there to see him walk.”
    Bell, 25, signed with the Carolina Panthers as undrafted free agent offensive lineman and started a game his first year. He is now a three-year veteran and wants to stay in Carolina.
    Bell likes to return to Greenville to visit, but doesn’t stay long.
    “He’s like a celebrity in Greenville, people won’t leave him alone,” Dracos said. “He may come back here and lift. He’s already going to work with our  players. He likes giving back.”
    The Cumby kids got the message.




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