Maturing Byron Bell Shines In Spring Practice
April 10, 2010
By David Lepre
Here are 10 words spoken by offensive tackle Byron Bell that should warm the hearts of any Lobo football fan:
"I want to be a dominant player in this conference."
Bell said those words after Friday's practice, the 10th of a spring schedule in which the junior-to-be's play has caught even the casual observer's eye. Bell has been dishing out more pancakes then Denny's over the past couple of weeks, simply overwhelming his targets with a determination not seen before from the Greenville, Texas, native.
Not that it takes long to spot Bell on the practice field, anyway. Measuring 6-5, 330 lbs., Bell doesn't really have too many places to hide. Yet, that an athlete his size is moving this fast with this much power and agility, well, it's something New Mexico's football program has never really seen before.
Bell has drawn notoriety for his play in the past. He was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-America selection by CollegeFootballNews.com after the 2008 season. But, trust me, Lobos fans - you've never seen Big Byron play like this. Not with this much hustle. Not with this much focus.
"That's just the mentality I've got now," Bell said. "I'm just trying to do all the little things now - pay attention to detail. I talked to coach Locksley and some of the other coaches before we started spring practice and told them that I'm all in. Everything."
Bell, an otherwise shy person, has taken a leadership role among his linemen and with the rest of the Lobos. That's not by accident.
"I felt it was time for me to step up," Bell said. "Since I've been here, we've had a lot of good leaders on the o-line. I've been watching them and saw how they led. Now I'm just trying to do the same thing,"
Bell attributes his new outlook to his position coach - Cheston Blackshear.
"Coach Blackshear is real special to me," Bell said. "I can call coach any time of the day, any day of the week. He's always there for me."
Bell is learning more than football from Blackshear, himself just 31 and a former offensive lineman at Florida from 1996-99. "He's teaching me how to become a better person first, a student second and then football comes third," Bell said. "He says if all those things come into place, I'll not only be a great football player, I'll be a great man.
"Coach has been like the father figure I never really had growing up. He's always there for me. I really love coach Blackshear."
"Byron's background and my background - as far as the way we were raised - are very similar," Blackshear said. "In a lot of the things he's gone though, I've been able to help him. In a lot of the things I've gone through since coming here, he's been able to help me - as far as becoming a better coach. I think we recognize that mutual respect for one another.
"I think there's a sense of urgency in him to be a leader," Blackshear said. "He recognizes his ability to lead others and his ability to be a great football player. He's more focused then he was at this time last spring. Because he's more focused, it's allowed him to become a better player. He's progressing every day to become a leader for the offensive line."
Not everything has changed for Bell. Like any self-respecting offensive lineman, he still can't wait for the Lobos to run the football.
"I love running the football," he said. "I just like hitting people. It's a good feeling when you just come off the ball and really, really hit a guy. Now, I'm trying to be more physical in the passing game, too. When I do engage somebody rushing, he's not going to get near our quarterback."
"(Bell) was recruited to run the football," Blackshear said. "So obviously, he's good at it. He feels comfortable doing it. Any o-lineman that has any sense of passion about this game and pride wants to run the football. I don't think there are any true o-lineman out there that would choose the passing game over the running game.
"We've talked a lot about running the football," Bell said. "That's one thing that we have to do in this conference. If we get the run game going, the passing game is going to be there and we're going to score a lot of touchdowns."
Bell credits Blackshear and fellow o-line coach Mike Degory as two of the best at their craft.
"We've got coach Blackshear and coach Degory - two of the best coaches in the country," Bell said. "We know all the calls, we know all the plays now. They're putting us right where we need to be and teaching us everything we need to know. Not it's just a matter of being physical and seeing who can hit who. As a unit, we're playing powerful football. We're a confident unit."
As to his goals for the upcoming season, Bell has priorities set.
"First and foremost, we want to win," Bell said. "When I met with coach Locksley before spring ball started, I told him, `It's time to win. No matter who we play - I don't care who they are or what conference they're from - we've got to win.
"Wins come first, then I want to see our unit be the best in conference. Those two things happening are more important to me than making all conference. That's why I'm working like I am and we're working like we are."