Skyler Bell first came to The Taft School as a 10th grader. It did not take long for him to make an impression.
According to head coach Tyler Whitley, "you could immediately see as soon as he walked out on the field, you went, 'Wow, OK, this kid is pretty darn special.'"
The coach was effusive with praise of Bell, who just announced his commitment to Wisconsin on Sunday.
"Sky, he is really just blessed with some of the best athleticism that I've seen," Whitley told AllBadgers.com on Sunday. "He really is one of the best athletes in the country in terms of his speed, his explosiveness, all of those things. His numbers are just otherworldly compared to most kids."
Whitley recalled how Bell followed in the footsteps of his older brother, O'Shea, in coming to The Taft School, which he noted was a boarding school of about 600 students. According to the coach, the younger Bell had never played receiver before arriving there.
Seeing his talent, the staff initially started Bell as a safety at first while adapting him to the varsity high school level. Whitley mentioned how his athlete rotated in as the fifth wide receiver at the beginning of his sophomore season, but that changed a few games in.
"Then kind of by mid-year we're like, ‘Wow, this kid needs to be on the field every chance we can get him to do that," Whitley said. “So he kind of ended up starting both ways for us on a championship team. You could really see it was all starting to click for him."
Whitley described The Taft School's offense as mostly a no-huddle, spread run-pass option (RPO) scheme that run "heavy" on inside zone plays. They deploy four wide receivers and some 20 personnel (two running backs, three wide receivers) on the field.
Last season, Bell caught 36 passes for 549 yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 2019. The head coach praised Bell as versatile and also believes his stats are more impressive by the fact that the school only plays eight games.
"He can play inside in the slot, he can play outside. He can take the top off the defense," Whitley said. "We'll use them on some big, deep routes and things like that -- posts and verticals -- but we also try to get him the ball in the screen game.
"We're a heavy RPO offense, so he's a huge part of that where if Skyler is running a bubble and we can get him the ball in space, he's going to make people miss, and he's going to make big plays. So we try to get him the ball every way that we can."
They also utilize Bell in a variety of different ways.
"We put him in the backfield. He returns kicks, he returns punts," Whitley said. "No one really kicks to him anymore because he took a bunch back, but he does it all for us. He also starts on the defensive side of the ball so he starts in everything."
While shining on the football field, Whitley stated that Bell also is the school's varsity basketball captain and runs track, further highlighting the prep standout as a "throwback three-sport athlete who's just great at anything he does."
"You put a ball in his hand and he'll be great at it, but he's really worked hard at his technique, at the craft of being a receiver -- running routes, releases and all those things," Whitley said. "So from that point when he came as a 10th grader to where he is now, he's just leaps and bounds ahead of where he was because he's put in so much effort into learning kind of the mental side of things and also the technique side.”
Based on Whitley's conversations with Bell and limited chats with the UW football staff, the coach said Wisconsin looks at his multi-faceted receiver "as a big-play guy" and someone that could stretch opposing defenses for Paul Chryst's offense.
"Someone with that kind of top-end speed who can really take the top off a defense, but I also think they'll use him in a lot of ways just like we do because he is so versatile as an athlete," Whitley said. "Whether you put him in the slot or you put him on the outside or you have him return kicks, I think they plan on using him in a variety of different ways."
In terms of Bell's strengths, Whitley goes back to his athleticism, calling out a 40-plus inch vertical jump that allows the receiver to leap over people and having great speed to run by defenders.
Whitley also mentioned how composed of a player he is.
"He's one of those kids that can kind of shut out the crowd and shut out all the noise and just play and be really comfortable in himself in making a play," Whitley said. "So when it's the time to make a big play, he makes it.
"He's pretty impressive with his composure and his versatility as an athlete. I think that's something that kind of separates Skyler from others."
In terms of potential areas of growth, Whitley believes Bell would say he would like to "tighten up all the aspects of his game," but especially route running and being a "complete receiver in understanding defenses."
From Whitley's perspective, for any player going from high school to college, the "biggest hurdle" will be learning the playbook. Even if he believes his offense runs a "pretty complex" scheme at the moment, Wisconsin will go more in-depth.
"In conversations with the coaches, [Bell's] come back and told me like, 'Coach, wow, they're just like so in-depth with all these plays,'" Whitley said. "I said, 'I know it's gonna be.'
"That's the next level. It's getting really, really getting comfortable with playing receiver. Only being a receiver for two years, I think it's going to be his route running and just constantly working on his hands, and that's something that he does all the time. He's got a jugs machine, and he works on that. So the route running and the hands are something that he's always looking to tighten up."
Bell announced his commitment to Wisconsin this weekend, choosing UW over such Power Five schools like Iowa, Rutgers, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Whitley believes assistant coaches Mickey Turner and Alvis Whitted "did a really good job of getting to know Skyler and his family and really showing what Wisconsin had to offer."
The relationship developed relatively quickly as well, as Bell announced the offer from Wisconsin on April 29. Whitley also believes that the Badgers program "speaks for itself" with its success and the community within Madison.
"Iowa was the first to offer him, and he was feeling really good about Iowa for a lot of the time," Whitley said. "Then Wisconsin kind of came in and kind of gave him their pitch, and he started to really listen and became more and more comfortable with the coaches and the opportunity to compete for a Big Ten championship every year and maybe even beyond that.
"Skyler's ultimate goal was to play in the NFL and that's what he's kind of said the whole time is, 'I want to go to the best program that's going to prepare me to potentially be a pro.' I think the combination of that and Coach Whitted and the ability to do that as well as having such a great college atmosphere there and it being a really good school, that kind of sealed the deal for him."