Blake Bell has always been the biggest, but his heart and love for the game is larger still.
|RJ Young||Feb 2|| 4|
In 2013, I was tasked with writing features about three quarterbacks vying for the starting job at Oklahoma for Rivals.com: Trevor Knight, Kendal Thompson and Blake Bell. Below is the feature I wrote about Bell who will play in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.
Blake Bell was born four weeks earlier than expected to his parents, Mark and Sherry Bell. He weighed eight pounds straight out of the womb and hasn't stopped growing since.
As early as 10 years old, he was carded where the preferred drink still comes out of a juice box: little league baseball games.
His family traveled with him to different cities where it wasn't common to see a man-child standing a full head above the competition. If Bell had been sitting on the bench in the dugout, that would not have mattered so much.
But since he was a tall imposing kid on the mound throwing fastballs by helpless batters, it mattered to the parents of opposing teams. In fact, it mattered quite a bit.
"Baseball was just the one where people went crazy because he was such a tall kid," Sherry says. "He was a strong pitcher for his age, and I think it upset people that he had such a strong arm. So they didn't think he was the right age. But he was.
"We use to travel for baseball when he was little. I used to carry his birth certificate in my purse because people would be hollering 'He's not 10! He's not 12!' It's like, 'Yes, he is. Here's his birth certificate."
A few years later, well after Bell had given up baseball to work toward becoming an elite quarterback, the Detroit Tigers took him with the 1,303rd overall pick in the MLB Draft in 2010. Bell hadn't thrown a baseball in earnest since 2008.
But even if Bell played baseball during his senior year of high school, it wouldn't have swayed his decision to play football at Oklahoma.
"As a young child, his dream was to play at the University of Oklahoma," said Bell's uncle, Mike Bell. "When they offered, it was a dream come true. He's doing what he wants to do."
Looking back, it seems Bell was always going to play football. The sport is in his DNA.
Mark and Mike, who are twins, both played at Colorado State in the late 70's.
Mark was the102nd pick in fourth round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He played on both sides of the ball as a professional and spent five seasons in the league with the Seattle Seahawks (1979-82), Baltimore Colts (1983) and Indianapolis Colts (1984).
But if Mark was good, Mike was great.
Mike was selected as a consensus first team All-American in 1978 and became the No. 2 overall pick in the '79 Draft. Men selected after Mike in that draft include Dan Hampton, Kellen Winslow, Phil Simms and Joe Montana.
Mike played 11 years in the league, all with the Kansas City Chiefs, and accounted for 13.5 sacks in 1984 in only 15 games.
As pro defensive ends, Mark was taller at 6-foot-5 than Mike. But Mike was bigger at 255 pounds.
As a junior in college, Bell is already taller at 6-foot-6 and nearly 25 pounds heavier at 266 pounds than his father or his uncle were as pros. Mark believes Bell's frame would allow Bell to play almost any position on the field.
"You know when I was playing, they didn't make quarterbacks that big," Mark said. "He's got a perfect tight end body on him for the NFL -- I mean he's got that kind of body. It is amazing how big he is for a quarterback."
Mark was among more than 85,000 at Memorial Stadium to see that big body put to use on a day the Sooners needed it most on Nov. 24, 2012 against Oklahoma State.
Bell was brought in to perform the task he's become known for at Oklahoma: short yardage battering ram. With his height, weight and familiarity with taking the snap from under the center, he was built for the job.
That didn't take pressure off him to perform, though. Bell has received the bulk of his playing time at OU when the offense has sputtered approaching the first down marker on third and fourth downs, but none like this.
Down 45-38 with four seconds left on the clock and the ball on OSU 4-yard line, Bell was asked again to find a way to move the ball three feet forward. Three feet separated Oklahoma from losing to its in-state rival in back-to-back years.
"It seems like I can see that play in slow motion," Mark said. "Some guy penetrated at the line and almost got [Bell's] leg. I knew when he got past that first level -- I knew then -- that nobody was going to stop him. That's just Blake's will."
Bell fought off the would-be tackler and rushed into the end zone. Kicker Michael Hunnicutt tied the game with an extra point, and the Sooners emerged the victors in overtime.
His surge forward was a small part to play, but it was also a microcosm of the kind of quarterback he's been since high school.
It is his senior season of high school football, and you can already see he's growing into his father's body. In a shotgun set, he surveys defense.
In the green and gold of Bishop Carroll Catholic (Wichita, Kan.) High School, he takes the snap from under center. The running back -- his only protection from the oncoming rush -- sprints into a flare route.
The offensive line is beaten so quickly by the four-man rush that Bell doesn't even have time to finish his drop before defenders snatch handfuls of his jersey, forcing him into survival mode.
While sprinting backward, he evades one player and shrugs off another. Then, back at his own 10-yard line, 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, he plants his right foot and starts rolling back to his right with defenders on his heels.
Nearing the sideline at the Bishop Carroll 15-yard line, he plants his right foot again and unleashes a pass that travels 38 yards down field like a boulder out of a catapult.
The ball threads through two boys in the secondary and into the hands of a Bishop Carroll wide receiver who falls down just past the 50-yard line. For most quarterbacks, that play would have resulted in 20-plus yard loss.
But not Blake Bell.