LB Nick Bellore’s Moment Has Arrived
By Vince Agnew
The New York Jets were set to battle the Dallas Cowboys on the NFL’s opening weekend in 2011 in New York City. American flags waved valiantly in the Big Apple on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks as President George W. Bush took the field. In front of a sea of fans decked in green and white, emotions peaked as the ball was set on the tee for the Sunday night opening kickoff. The ball was booted deep to the Cowboys kick returner before rookie linebacker, Nick Bellore, blasted him, sending his own helmet into the air.
Bellore flexed his bravado in front of the electrified home crowd. This remains one of his most memorable moments in the NFL, and reminds him of the passion that he has for the game and the opportunities that it has given him. Although he appeared to be a natural covering kick returns during his career, that could not be further from the truth.
As a true-freshman at Central Michigan University, Bellore, now with the San Francisco 49ers, was called on to be a full-time, heavy-hitting linebacker, providing him little to no experience on special teams. Special teams were something that he would ask coaches to play on, covertly hoping that they would say no to save his legs for an upcoming defensive stand.
But he knew after completing his college degree and in entering the NFL as an undrafted player, special teams would become a way of life.
“[It] was the only way I was going to make it in the NFL,” Bellore said. “There was no choice but to try to excel at special teams and I had to learn the skills needed to do it. You have to run block, hit and tackle. It’s kind of like playing offense and defense.”
Now in his sixth season as a special teams ace in the league, tackles on kickoffs and punts are like gold. He compares it to a defensive end providing a great pass rush and being awarded a sack. Sometimes they come and other times they do not, but at every snap they are the ultimate desire.
“It’s a big effort play,” he said. “If you really want to make the play more than the next guy, you can usually do pretty well. I tried to get one or two tackles on special teams every game. If you can get sixteen or seventeen tackles in a year that would be at the top-end of all special teams players. That’s what I shot for.”
Bellore spent his first four seasons playing for the Jets, compiling over sixty special teams tackles and sending his earning potential into the sky.
He’s earned multiple contracts in an unconventional way and built a reputation league-wide for his savvy on special teams. Now, during his second season with the 49ers, Bellore has earned an opportunity that he waited half a decade to gain.
In an instant, one injury thrust him into a starting role on the 49ers defense against the same team that he launched off both his NFL career and his helmet against.
Bellore credits linebacker NaVorro Bowman as being an incredible competitor and mentor in so many ways. He is respected league-wide and has provided Bellore with a wealth of knowledge. But in the week-four matchup against the Cowboys, Bowman was injured and lost for the remainder of the season.
Now the student has taken the lead and is working to fill the teacher’s shoes. With six starts under his belt, Bellore is currently third on the team in total tackles. However, laying the groundwork to be a leading tackler is not a new task for the linebacker who was unshakable at CMU, racking up 472 tackles for an average of over 10 tackles per game.
During that time, he developed under the tutelage of older players and absorbed the importance of preparation.
“I think preparation is an underutilized quality, especially in college,” he said. “That’s where I really learned how to prepare for games and I learned how to study film.”
Bellore trained for over five seasons as if he was one play away from taking the reigns. This is the competitive quality that makes Bellore what he is now in the forefront of the 49ers defense. Linebackers are called on to make the spectacular plays look routine, taking on the world’s most elite running backs in a wide-open playing field. Bellore has taken an uncommon path building an NFL career on special teams and is now translating it into making these remarkable plays time and time again on first through third downs.