By Adam Minichino
OXFORD — A dream has helped keep Brandon Bell’s football career alive.
There have been times in the past few years that Bell has wondered if he
was going to realize a dream to play football at Ole Miss. Through all of the ups and downs, though, the former Caledonia High School and Heritage Academy standout persevered. He spent two years at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, where he became a proficient receiver and helped the Lions win the 2013 national title.
Still, Bell wasn’t sure if he would be to walk on at Ole Miss and prove himself to become one of the 105. That number refers to the players who make the Ole Miss roster entering training camp. Recently at Ole Miss’ media day, Bell was right there, wearing No. 29 and sitting in The Grill at 1810 inside the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center like he belonged.
“It was always my dream to play Division I somewhere,” Bell said. “I loved Ole Miss growing up, so it really was my dream to play here. I am blessed to be here.”
Bell, who will be a non-scholarship player, strengthened his case for making the 105 in the spring by catching a 22-yard touchdown pass in the team’s practice game/scrimmage. He said he didn’t talk to any of the coaches about what he had to do to make the team. He said the coaches don’t treat walk-ons differently from scholarship players and that he did what he always has done when it came time to prove himself and earn a position.
“I feel comfortable being here,” Bell said. ‘The coaches are great and have been helpful. I have learned a lot being here already.”
Bell was part of a program at EMCC that went 20-2 in the past two seasons. Last year, Bell was the Lions’ third-leading receiver with 36 catches for 475 yards and five touchdowns. It took bell time to reach that level of production after a solid prep career in which he rushed for 1,166 yards and 14 touchdowns on 147 attempts as a senior at Heritage Academy in 2011. He also completed 32 of 71 passes for 647 yards and four TDs.
But Bell knew he likely wasn’t going to play running back or quarterback at the higher levels of college football, so he had to work to find his niche. He accomplished that goal at EMCC, working primarily as a slot receiver in the Lions’ high-octane offense.
At Ole Miss, Bell said he likely will compete for playing time as an outside receiver at a position group that features plenty of depth and chances to make an impact. He knows that he will have to prove himself every day and show he can do a lot more than make one catch for a touchdown.
“There are a lot more plays coming from a junior college, and the speed of the game is a lot faster,” Bell said. “East Mississippi was very fast, but coming from JUCO to Division I, it is a lot faster.”
If there is a silver lining, Bell hopes his time at EMCC, where the Lions used a hurry-up offense, will help him adjust to the pace and the style of play senior quarterback Bo Wallace and the Rebels will use this season. With players like Laquon Treadwell and Vincent Sanders, a former standout at Noxubee County High School, Bell said there will be plenty of competition at wide receiver. He said he started out as a tight end — he is still listed at that position on the Ole Miss roster on the school’s website — and was moved to wide receiver after two days. He said he played wide receiver in the spring game.
“At East Mississippi, I played slot receiver, so it is just a learning process,” Bell said. “It is not that big of a difference. It is just something you have to learn.”
Bell said he could land a spot on special teams, but he wasn’t sure prior to the team’s first practice. Wherever he winds up, Bell said it will be special simply because he will get a chance to wear the Ole Miss uniform.
“It is going to be a special day to finally say I am a member of the 105 and get out there and start practicing,” Bell said, looking forward to the team’s first workout without pads. “It is a dream come true.”