Mike Bello is constantly catching people off guard.
Standing outside the weight room before one of his summer workouts, the Cardinal Mooney senior fielded countless questions from former teammates who did a double take upon returning to their alma mater.
In fact, there are times when the Cougars center barely recognizes himself after dropping 105 pounds over the past year.
“It’s OK for me because I saw the change as I was going through it, but some people don’t recognize me,” Bello says.
Bello first walked onto the Cardinal Mooney football field four years ago weighing in at 340 pounds.
A lifelong Packers fan, Bello spent many Sunday afternoons watching Brett Favre sling touchdowns across Lambeau Field. But that was about as close to football as Bello got.
So, when Cardinal Mooney coach Josh Smithers encouraged Bello to give the sport a try, there was only one thing of which he was sure.
“I was roughly 340 pounds, so there was no question I was going to be a lineman,” Bello says.
After playing with Cardinal Mooney for two seasons, Bello decided he was ready to move up to the varsity level.
“I just like the team atmosphere and knowing that no matter what happened we were always going to be a team,” Bello says. “It’s hard for me to quit when I get going on something. My coaches have given me that character through the years.”
Using football as fuel for motivation, Bello began tackling his weight. It wasn’t long before the weight began to fall off. Bello dropped down to 255 pounds by the start of his junior year.
“It’s really a life change,” Bello says. “All the exercise is there with football. It’s just about eating right and making sure not to indulge every day.
“I’m excited about the upcoming season,” Bello says. “This group is excited, and we’re ready to play and see where the season takes us.”
— Jen Blanco, Sports Editor
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Josh Smithers: Sixth year
On last season: When healthy, I think we can be pretty competitive. We had some good things happen last year, but, unfortunately, we had the wrong guys hurt. It just seemed like one thing after the other, so, to finish 5-5 and be competitive is a great feat when our best leaders weren’t on the field.
On how this year’s team stacks up: We have a great group of skill guys. In terms of team speed, athletically this is the best group we’ve had since 2006. You never know what can happen, but on paper we look pretty darn good.
On the depth chart: When you’re dealing with 30 kids, every position (struggles) with backups. It’s tough, and you have to make sure they know what they’re doing. It’s a challenge every school in 3A faces.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
15 — Reese Vita
“All of his intangibles and his character are incredible,” Josh Smithers says. “Wow, what a great leader. I’ve never heard him point the blame. That’s just his personality.”
10 — Clark Horne
“He’s our leading play maker,” Smithers says.
4 — Demardre Patterson
Senior, running back
All games start at 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 LaBelle
Sept. 6 at Admiral Farragut
Sept. 13 at Lake Placid
Sept. 20 Avon Park
Sept. 27 Tampa Catholic
Oct. 4 BYE
Oct. 11 at St. Pete Catholic
Oct. 18 The Out-of-Door
Oct. 25 Victory Christian
Nov. 1 at Bishop Verot
Nov. 8 at Booker
*Denotes district game