The age of 21 usually makes for one of the best summers in a college student’s life. They can now legally go into clubs, and they have a year of school left so there is no freaking out about a job. They are still living at home, so no major bills.
And then there was Chaz Bell’s summer of 21, when the only goal was to get a standout lacrosse career back to where it should be.
A 2013 graduate of Hopewell Valley Central High School, Bell spent last summer rising at 6 a.m. to catch the 6:50 train from Hamilton to Manhattan. After working at his civil engineering internship for a structural engineer company, Bell would arrive back at Hamilton Station at around 6:30.
From there, Bell went straight to Ewing for a summerlong workout regiment. Then it was home for something to eat, and off to bed only to do it all over again the next day. By August, it was back to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for his senior year of academics and lacrosse.
The obvious question—what could possibly drive a 21-year-old to sell his soul to responsibility for an entire summer?
“My motivation was the end of last season when I was sitting on the bench,” Bell said. “I knew there were no more do-overs. Senior year it’s your last go-round. I just knew that I could not sit on the bench for a whole other season. So that was a pretty big motivation every day.”
It was the culmination of Bell’s career taking a surprising downward spiral. After a standout lacrosse career at HVCHS in which he was a three-year varsity starter at midfield and All-Conference first-team his junior and senior years, the scholastic All-American headed for academic power RPI.
In his first two seasons with the Engineers, Bell took regular shifts, played 29 games and collected eight goals and three assists.
“He didn’t have the big numbers but always contributed,” RPI coach Jim Townsend said. “He kind of waited his turn a little bit, which the guys really respect. He came in with a great group, potentially the winningest class in school history.”
“I played relatively consistently,” Bell said. “I was bouncing around kind of third and second line midfield. I wasn’t up on the first midfield where I was getting all the big runs and everything. I wasn’t necessarily a go-to guy or anything like that but I played pretty consistently over those first two years and for part of the junior until my play kind of slowed down.”
The reason for that slow-down occurred the summer prior to his junior year, when something happened that Bell is still trying to figure out. He gained weight. The kind of weight that turns a good player sluggish.
“I don’t think I really realized what was happening,” Bell said. “Weight was never an issue or something I ever worried about before. I don’t think it was a lack of working out. But I wasn’t really watching what I was eating, I guess. It just built up over time and then it got to a point where it was affecting how I was playing.”
From there, he wasn’t playing at all. The coaches had a talk with Bell about had his condition and another chat at season’s end, pretty much telling him lose weight or keep sitting.
He suffered an injury at the beginning of last season, and when he returned, he didn’t play well. “So obviously when you’re not playing well, you’re going to stop playing,” Bell said. “It was definitely tough to sit there and watch. But I knew that coach was doing what was best for the team.
“Once you’re in season and there’s only a month left, there’s not a whole lot you can do to shed the weight that quickly and do what you need to do to get back on the field. So I knew in the off-season I needed to work really hard and get back to the place I was the previous couple years.”
The result of last summer’s grueling schedule was more than anyone could have asked. Most of Bell’s workouts were the running variety and he dropped an astounding 30 pounds. He did weight training in the fall to regain muscle mass and is at his ideal weight of 205 pounds.
“We expected him to get in shape,” Townsend said. “But to come back in the shape he was in was tremendous. He came in, in the best shape of his life and the guys obviously saw that.”
They were also impressed by it. One year after being benched, Bell was elected a team captain.
“Any time you’re voted captain, that not only speaks to how they feel about you in that particular sport, but as a person too,” Bell said. “That definitely meant the world to me that my teammates thought enough of me to vote me as a captain along with four other great guys. It felt good after all the work I did this summer.”
Townsend could not have been happier with Bell’s selection, saying, “he’s a great person, always happy, always works hard and definitely cares about his team first.”
With Bell’s world back on its axis, he then faced more adversity when he contracted mononucleosis one game into the season. He sat out three games but is back to taking regular shifts. With two games remaining in the regular season Bell had four goals and an assist while playing mainly a defensive role.
“After a tough loss to Vassar a few games after my return, coach Townsend changed around the midfield lines and asked me to be strictly a defensive middie,” Bell said. “Since things clearly weren’t working in our loss to Vassar, I knew we needed to change something, and I was confident that the decisions coach was making were in the best interest of the team.”
The Engineers won five straight since the move and were for a second straight NCAA Division III berth. Bell is comfortable focusing strictly on defense.
“I feel like I have more energy on the defensive end,” Bell said. “I’ve been able to push the ball up the field to create opportunities in transition, more so than when I was playing both ways.”
“Chaz is a glue guy,” Townsend said. “He’s not the quickest guy. He kind of grinds it out and makes really good decisions. He doesn’t turn the ball over much and he always makes the right play.”
He is also more effective than ever after shedding weight.
“It definitely makes me a more multidimensional player, to the point where I can help my team in ways that I was unable to in the past,” Bell said. “Last year I felt like a liability at times, especially on defense, but this year I feel like defense is my biggest strength and where I can help the team the most.”
No matter what happens in terms of wins and losses, Bell has gained a new appreciation for the game—partly because of what happened last year, and partly because this is his final season.
“I know that I need to make the most of every time I step on the field, knowing it could be the last time that I do it,” Bell said. “We’ve had three seniors go down to season-ending injuries, so I’m just trying to enjoy the time I have left playing this great game.”
After what he did to get ready for this year, no one deserves to enjoy it more than Bell.