Penn State Football: Dear Brandon Bell, It’s Just Not A Number; The Legacy Behind No. 11


“It’s a number at the end of the day” is the last line in Jeff Rice’s interview with Brandon Bell discussing the decision of changing his number from 26 to 11.

But in the end, it’s just not a number. The number has been worn by two of the greatest linebackers to ever come out of Penn State, it’s the legacy that Brandon Bell must endure and carry on now that he dons the 11 jersey on defense.

The most legendary player that #11 jersey is linked to is Penn State all-time great LaVar Arrington.

Nicknamed “L.A” , LaVar Arrington was one of the best linebackers ever to come through not just Penn State but the entire college level. The outside linebacker was voted as an All-American in both of two seasons at Penn State after redshirting his freshman season.

In 1999, Arrington won the Butkus Award, annually given to the nation’s top linebacker as well as the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the country’s top defensive player. He was the 12th Nittany Lion at the time to be voted to a first-team All-American twice.

Arrington is also known as having one of the best plays in Penn State history when leaped over the Illinois Fightin Illini offensive line on a fourth and one to stop fullback Elmer Hickman as Hickman received the handoff.

In the 1999 season, Arrington recorded 72 tackles in which 20 of them were for a loss. He also had nine sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, two blocked kicks, and two fumble recoveries in which returned one for a touchdown.

In the 2000 NFL Draft, he was selected second overall by the Washington Redskins after the Cleveland Browns drafted former Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown with the first overall pick. He would play six seasons in the NFL spending 2000-05 with the Redskins before going to NFC East division rival, the New York Giants in 2006 for a single seasons.

During his four season in the NFL, Arrington lived up to all the hype as he played in 62 of 64 games recording 339 tackles over those four years. He also recorded three interceptions (one four a TD), 10 forced fumbles and 32 pass deflections over those four seasons. He was voted as a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler from the 2001 to the 2003 season. In his final two seasons with the Redskins, Arrington suffered several knee injuries while also having fall outs with his head coaches, Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams. He was voted in 2012 as one of the 80 greatest Washington Redskins.

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It’s hard to imagine that Arrington would not have been a Pro Football Hall of Famer if his career hadn’t derailed due to injuries after his first four seasons.

The other name that is associated with number 11 is NaVarro Bowman.

Originally wearing number 18 at Penn State, NaVarro Bowman decided to switch to number 11 his junior season at Penn State to honor Arrington. Bowman did not let Arrington down, as the Maryland native had a great season that seemed to be not noticed by media outside of Pennsylvania.

Bowman redshirted in 2006 with a majority of the reason being the Nittany Lions already had a very experienced and dynamic linebacker corps with Dan Connor being the leader. In 2007, Bowman made his Penn State debut and played in nine games. Recording 16 tackles during those nine games, Bowman flashed his potential at times, as he recorded a sack, a forced fumble, as well as blocking a kick.

In 2008, Bowman really stepped on the scene nationally as he recorded 106 tackles in 13 games for Penn State. Out of those 106 tackles, Bowman had 16.5 tackles for a loss as well as four sacks. He also recorded one interception, and two forced fumbles. He finished the season off with a bang in the 2009 Rose Bowl as he recorded five tackles for a loss that added up to negative 21 yards total. It set the single bowl game Penn State record while tying the Rose Bowl’s single game record.

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In 2009, Bowman decided to make the number change to 11, knowing what legacy it held and knowing exactly why he wanted to wear it. Bowman, didn’t disappoint.  Over the course 11 games, missing two due to injury, Bowman recorded 93 tackles with 17 being for a loss. Three of those 17 tackles for a loss ended up being sacks. He also recorded two interceptions on the season, returning one of them for a score. He also returned a recovered fumble back for a touchdown.

Following his junior season, Bowman declared for the NFL Draft. He was selected in the third round and 91st overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

Since being drafted by the 49ers, Bowman has been voted a three-time First-Team All-Pro (2011-2013) , two time Pro Bowler (2012-13), the 49ers defensive MVP (2013) as well as the NFL Butkus Award winner in 2013. He was voted a top 100 player in the NFL over the three seasons, peaking at #37 in 2013.

Over his first four seasons, Bowman played all 64 games recording 482 tackles over the course of the four seasons. He also record nine sacks, three interceptions, five forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries.

He was sidelined the entire 2014 season after tearing his ACL against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 NFL Championship game.

As you’ve read above, the parallels between Arrington and Bowman are almost surreal. They both had amazing junior seasons at Penn State, one went noticed while the other flew under the radar of scouts. Going back in 2010, most GMs would probably draft Bowman within the first ten picks if given the opportunity. Both were three time First-Team All-Pro’s in their first four seasons and both being selected to Pro Bowls multiple times in their first three seasons. Both are legendary Penn State linebackers.

Now it’s Brandon Bell’s turn to live up to the legacy. It will be a huge amount of pressure upon the now junior linebacker. All of it starts today, with Penn State’s annual Blue-White Spring Game. Bell, by wearing number 11, is declaring himself as the alpha male of Penn State’s defense and more importantly the leader.

Brandon Bell must now realize that the number 11 jersey is not “just a number at the end of the day” but a “legacy at the end of the day”, one that he now holds on his shoulders. One that he must live up to, to honor the two legendary linebackers who have come before him.