Oct. 3, 2012
By Rachel English, Michigan State Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant
A player of Le'Veon Bell's physical stature would seemingly be a headline recruit out of high school.
But that simply wasn't the case.
Although Bell was a three-year starter at Groveport Madison High School near Columbus, Ohio, and rushed for 1,333 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior, he found himself with limited scholarship options. With the help of summer classes, Bell ultimately decided to graduate high school early, and came to Michigan State in the spring of 2010 as a two-star recruit.
He has since flourished into one of the top running backs in the nation.
Looking back, it's hard to believe Bell found himself in that position. He credits getting to East Lansing earlier than most freshmen as one of the main reasons for his early success.
"I wanted to get a jump start and learn about the offense," said Bell, who now stands 6-2 and 244 pounds. "It was nice to start academics and college life early and not get thrown into everything."
Upon visiting MSU, Bell felt welcomed by head coach Mark Dantonio and instantly felt the love of the team.
"From day one, Larry Caper and I have been close," Bell said about his fellow teammate. "We are always kicking it and hanging out. He's like a big brother to me."
While he calls the team his family, Bell is one of five children. In the middle, or number three as he calls it, Bell has two older sisters and two younger brothers. Both of his brothers play football; one is a senior in high school, and the other is in eighth grade.
Growing up, Bell has always been close to his mother Lisa. He hopes one day he can help her out as much as she has helped him.
"My mom and I are very close," said Bell. "After a tough game, she is the only person I can talk to. She comforts me and it doesn't matter how mad I am, she can always get through to me. At the end of the day, I always know that it doesn't matter what I do, she will continually support me. My mom loves football because I love it. She has always done that for me."
The passion and love for the game that Bell holds is undeniable and a consistent part of his life. At the age of 4 his uncle introduced him to the sport. Bell's cousin, who was 5 at the time, was on a team and was the reason Bell often competed in the age group higher than his own.
"I've always had a passion since I first started playing," Bell said. "I think football is the perfect game because one player can't do it all. It takes every man on the field - there has to be a connection. I feel such a variety of emotions when I play. It's very special."
With such a love for the game, it's evident that football will be a part of Bell's life in the future. His goal is to play in the NFL, and in the long run, he would like to be around the game as either a coach or TV analyst. Bell is a frequent viewer of Monday Night Football Countdown and is a fan of the "C'mon Man" segment, seeing the potential of talking about the game he loves.
"I've always had a passion since I first started playing. I think football is the perfect game because one player can't do it all. It takes every man on the field - there has to be a connection."
"I want to be involved in an aspect of the game forever," said Bell. "I look at coach [Terrence] Samuel everyday and he tells the receivers what to do and what not to do because he played the position. He makes me want to be a coach. I want to pass on my knowledge of the game and make this game a better one."
For now, Bell is working on making his team better. After earning All-Big Ten Freshman honors in 2010 with 605 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, Bell was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season with 948 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Entering the season, however, Bell was labeled as the nation's best-kept secret, according to ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit.
Five games into the 2012 season, one thing is apparent - the secret is out.
Bell enters the Indiana contest as the Big Ten's leading rusher, averaging 131.0 yards per game, which also ranks sixth in the nation.
"When I'm out there, I just think about the game," said Bell. "I hold the ball and run the same way I did in the tapes from fourth grade."
While his technique has been years in the making, Bell finds inspiration in his hurdling from former Ohio State and current Arizona Cardinals running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. Growing up, Bell also frequently watched Adrian Peterson and Curtis Martin for new moves to try out.
It's led to a style Bell can uniquely call his own - a combination of speed, power, spinning, and yes, hurdling. That's the move that has attracted the most attention. In Michigan State's season opener against No. 24 Boise State, Bell leapt over Bronco safety Jeremy Ioane in midstride on his way to a 23-yard run, a highlight that was shown countless times across the nation and was listed among ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays.
But that wasn't the only reason Bell became a household name seemingly overnight.
He literally carried his team to victory over Boise State - 44 times for 210 rushing yards - under a national spotlight, and has been the talk of Michigan State ever since. He actually topped that performance with a career-high 253 rushing yards in the win against Eastern Michigan, the second most by a player in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision this season and the sixth most in MSU single-game history.
"As I've said many times, Le'Veon's a very good football player," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "He's sort of a complete football player in the fact he can run down there, be on the kickoff team, be in the kick return team, return punts, and he's a great blocker. He's a physical guy and can withstand that physical type of environment he's going to have to go through."
Now in his third year, Bell is pushing himself to be more of a vocal leader. With several young skill position players on offense, the team is leaning on his experience during the early portion of the season. He not only leads the Big Ten in rushing - but also carries, with nearly 27 a game.
To him, it's all part of helping the team achieve its primary goal.
"I really don't pay attention to my current rank and what is said," said Bell of his early season success, in which he has already been named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week twice. "I don't want to buy into those things or get distracted. I'm trying to focus on my team and do whatever it takes to win games. Individual accolades come with Spartan wins."
At this rate, there could be plenty of both at the end of the season for Michigan State and Le'Veon Bell.
Le'Veon Bell takes a moment before the Notre Dame game on Sept. 22 at Spartan Stadium.
This feature was originally published in the Sept. 29 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.