"I got you."
Those words were spoken with firm, convincing resolve by free safety Marvell Tell III of Encino Crespi High as he watched over a teammate in the weight room during an early-morning practice session. And they reveal plenty about what Tell intends to accomplish this season and beyond.
At 6 feet 2 1/2 and 186 pounds, with the ability to cover quick receivers, make open-field tackles and explode on ballcarriers in a split second, Tell could be Crespi's best football player since safety Shaun Williams, who went on to play for UCLA and the New York Giants in the 1990s.
He has become a role model for teammates because of his commitment on and off the field.
"I like guys depending on me," he said. "I'm a dependable guy."
Said Coach Troy Thomas: "I think the biggest thing that separates great athletes from just good athletes is their dedication, the type of person they are in all aspects of their life, and I think Marvell fits that build."
Tell lives in Pasadena, not far from the Rose Bowl, and was waking up at 5:15 a.m. to make it to Crespi for early-morning weightlifting sessions last spring. It was then, soaked in sweat while helping to oversee a teammate's lifting, that he offered his reassuring promise.
To hear the team's best player make it clear that he's "one of them" provides a clear understanding where Tell belongs in the hierarchy of leadership.
"When I go into the weight room or go on the field with my guys, I'll always have their back no matter what," he said. "I know they have mine. It's a good brotherhood."
As a football player, Tell figures to be used in a variety of roles for the Celts, but playing free safety allows him to have a major effect on defense. He has the freedom to improvise and use his instincts, which, combined with his athleticism and growing strength, makes him a player at the top of any totem pole.
"I love playing free safety," he said. "You get to roam around and see everything, see things develop. You're kind of that last sign of defense. Hence the word safety."
Several recruiting services rank him among the best in the nation, and Thomas sees a player who can contribute in many ways.
"He's a big safety," Thomas said. "He's got great range, very explosive for a long guy, great change in direction. He tackles very well. He wants to be great."
Tell said his parents have raised him to make academics a priority, which provides insight into why he doesn't need to be pushed by others and doesn't seek attention just for the sake of attention.
"Football, to me, at the end of the day, is a game," he said. "Some people take things too personal. I just love playing the game. The other stuff isn't about playing football."
Last season, Tell sat out several games because of a broken collarbone.
"That was horrible sitting on the sideline," he said.
He looks forward to showing what he can do when he unleashes his explosiveness.
"I like to play a role in every aspect of the game," he said.
And lessons learned from his father, Marvell II, drive him to succeed.
"My dad always taught me to compete, never back down and always try to be the best," he said. "I don't really need others to give me the drive to push myself to be the best."