Mike Bell welcomes his new leadership role, on and off the field
By Philip Clelland
Arizona Athletics Media Relations
When the final seconds ticked off the clock in the 2003 season for the Arizona football team, a lot of questions loomed in the not too distant future. One thing was apparent: this team needed leadership.
The offseason got off to a bang when Arizona lured Mike Stoops from Oklahoma to take the reigns of the football program. Stoops brought with him a new, tougher regimen, but perhaps more importantly he brought a new aura, one noticeable in the re-energized feeling among the players.
It was one player in particular who took it upon himself to step up and get the team headed in the right direction. Junior running back Mike Bell found himself taking a leadership role during the offseason. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Phoenix native is a big reason for the positive outlook in 2004.
Bell blossomed into the team’s motivational leader both on and off the field and in the weight room. He has become the face of Arizona football for 2004, but it is not a role he is accustomed to. He would rather have the primary focus be on the team.
“It feels good to be in this situation, but it’s contrary to what I am used to because I don’t want to look away from the team,” Bell said. “But it is good publicity, and it gives the team a lot of confidence.”
Though Arizona fans can find Bell’s face staring at them from bus stops and billboards across Tucson, Bell is quick to acknowledge that he is not the only leader propelling this team.
“We have a lot of seniors that have taken a leadership role this year,” Bell said. “We have a lot of great guys out there, and we all have something to offer.”
Running backs coach Kasey Dunn has taken notice of Bell’s leadership style and how it helps the team. “He is a leader by example,” Dunn said. “He is not going to get up and be a cheerleader. He is not that type of guy.”
The coaching staff as a whole has realized Bell’s abilities on and off the field. Head coach Mike Stoops is eager for him to develop into the potential that he has shown in the past two seasons and the offseason.
“Mike is a fantastic player. He does everything well,” Stoops said. “He’s a great runner, a great receiver, and a great protector. He is a very competitive person, and that is the thing we love about Mike. I think he has a chance to become a special player.”
Dunn works more intimately with Bell during practice and has exhibited his enthusiasm for Bell’s potential to be a great asset for the Wildcats. “Mike is a tremendous player and great offensively,” Dunn explained. “He’s able to catch the ball, run with the ball and make great cuts. He’s a great weapon inside and out. We look forward to using him this year.”
Coming off one of the worst seasons in Arizona football history, the team’s mentality will be crucial for the Wildcats in 2004. Bell will be looked to in order to ensure the squad stays headed in the right direction. “I can bring a lot of experience this year,” Bell said. “I expect to do the same thing I did last year and help lead the team to victory.”
Heading into tonight’s game against NAU, Bell is focused on restoring Arizona football to the dominance it enjoyed in the past. Looking back, he remembers what it felt like when the Wildcats defeated Washington last season for their first Pac-10 home win in three years.
Posting a phenomenal 222 rushing yards and three scores on 26 carries, Bell dominated the Huskies in arguably his best game to date. His three touchdowns in the 27-22 victory came on 69-, 67- and 37-yard runs.
“The Washington game in 2003 is one of my best memories as a Wildcat,” Bell said. “Being known as the one who led the team to victory is a great feeling.”
Without question, Bell put his name on the map for Arizona football last season. He is ranked fifth on Arizona’s charts for rushing yards in a single game and 12th for rushing yards in a season. In Arizona’s only two wins last year, Bell rushed for a combined 341 yards. He also was named to the 2003 all-Pac-10 second team.
“It feels really good to see my name on those record lists already,” Bell said. “Hopefully, I will be able to exceed those goals and one day be on the top of those lists.”
As he continues to grow into his new leadership role, Bell looks to model the foundation of his own game after the accomplishments of some of the game’s greatest players.
“I think about a lot of football’s great running backs, such as Walter Payton and Barry Sanders,” said Bell. “They inspire me to get better and to stand out. They motivate me to have fun and to do the things I need to do on the field for my team.”
Bell also uses his faith to motivate him to play to the best of his ability. While growing up, Bell attended church regularly with his parents, Linda and Anthony Bell. “I take religion very seriously. I use it to motivate myself because it is a very central part of my life,” Bell said.
When he is not on the field practicing or playing, Bell is either focused on academics or hanging out with friends. He is pursuing a degree in sociology, which he would like to apply to a future career with the FBI in the terrorism unit.
But tonight, as the Wildcats kick off the 2004 season and the Mike Stoops era, Bell and his teammates know they are facing a challenging uphill battle. But Bell has looked his teammates and coaches in the eyes and said, “Mission accepted.”
Article first appeared in the Sept. 4 Arizona football game program