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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 29 Theopolis Bell

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at UA: Wide receiver, 1972-75.

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Twice earned first-team All-WAC honors, in 1974 and 1975. … Was a first-team All-American from the Newspaper Enterprise Association in 1975. … Ranks fifth in school history with 153 receptions and fifth with 2,509 receiving yards.

Why he made our list: UA had not had a wide receiver like Theopolis “T” Bell. When he left UA he had 55 more receptions than anybody in school history (teammate Scott Piper was second) and 857 receiving yards more than the second-best Wildcat.

Bell’s pair of school records stood for 24 years after his graduation, until Dennis Northcutt came along and the program was into its third decade in the Pac-10. Bell’s school record of 30 touchdown receptions wasn’t broken until 2011, when Juron Criner slipped past with 32.

And Bell (6 feet, 185 pounds) put up all those numbers while playing in coach Jim Young’s veer offense, working the deep routes for quarterback Bruce Hill.

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

Hill-to-Bell is still very much in the discussion as the top pass-catch combo in school history, with Bell being the team’s biggest playmaker, not only as a receiver but as a returner. His average of 15.6 yards per touch was the best in NCAA history at the time and remains the top mark in the UA record book.

“I think he has to be one of the greatest players UA ever had,” Young said in 2006 after Bell died at age 52. “He was responsible, along with Bruce Hill and others, for establishing a winning program at that time.

“To me he was a great, great competitor. He played the game all-out. … He did everything.”

Life after college: Bell, a fourth-round pick in the 1976 draft, played nine seasons in the NFL, the first four with the Pittsburgh Steelers, helping them win two Super Bowls. Bell, who played the back half of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finished with 136 receptions for 2,375 yards and eight touchdowns. He had an 8.0-yard average on 127 career punt returns.

After pro ball, he worked with at-risk kids, from middle school to high school, at a federally-funded program that originated at the University of South Florida called GEAR-UP — Gaining Early Awareness Readiness of Undergraduate Programs.

Doctors diagnosed Bell with polycystic kidney disease in 2000, and he was later diagnosed with scleroderma, which causes a hardening of the skin. He died in Tampa in June 2006.

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.

No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley

No. 49 — Hubie Oliver

No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski

No. 47 — Jim Donarski

No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter

No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin

No. 44 — John Fina

No. 43 — Glenn Parker

No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson

No. 41 — Marcus Bell

No. 40 — Fred W. Enke

No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey

No. 38 — Juron Criner

No. 37 — Dana Wells

No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe

No. 35 — Bruce Hill

No. 34 — Chuck Osborne

No. 33 — Brandon Sanders

No. 32 — Sean Harris

No. 31 — Mike Thomas

No. 30 — Bobby Wade

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