News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 2, 2013

Bell, Sycamores begin practice with sights on FCS playoffs

Andy Amey
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Thoughts were toward the future as the Indiana State University football team enjoyed its first practice of the 2013 season Thursday at Memorial Stadium, and Shakir Bell’s thoughts were no different.

As the All-America running back gets ready for his final Sycamore campaign, however, he also knows enough about the past to offer some perspective. And individual accomplishments and a football future beyond ISU are extremely low on his priority list.

“I’m going to try to do everything I can to help this team win,” he said when asked about his senior thoughts.

The first and so far only Parade All-American to play football at ISU made his commitment following a state-championship season for his Warren Central High School team and following a 1-10 year for the Sycamores that was ISU’s best mark in three years.

So while there have been no Football Championship Subdivision playoff games for Bell so far — “We’ve been so close,” he said Thursday as he prepared for one more push — his frustration has been tempered by appreciation of how far the program has come.

“I’m glad to be part of history,” Bell noted.

For coach Mike Sanford, there is no ISU history. Thursday’s was his first fall practice as a Sycamore coach, and for the most part he liked what he saw.

Asked what to look for on a first day, he answered, “The first thing is, are [the players] in good condition, and they are. The second [good] thing is attitude, work ethic, the way we’re flying around.

“Then you want to see where we are in relation to where we were the last time we were together [at the end of spring practice],” Sanford concluded, “and the experienced guys are all ahead of where they were.”

The first five days of practice is an NCAA-mandated acclimitization period. Today’s practice, like Thursday’s, is in helmets, with the next two in helmets and shoulder pads before the first full-pad practice on Tuesday. Two-a-day practices can start Wednesday, but can’t be scheduled on consecutive days.

Whatever time the Sycamores have on the field will be busy. The season opener at Indiana is now less than four weeks away, and if the first day is an indication, Sanford’s practices will be brisk, crisp and up-tempo.

That tempo may have had some of the incoming freshmen and other newcomers who weren’t here in the spring shaking their heads on Thursday, Sanford indicated, but that confusion had better not last long.

Asked what his team needed most, the coach said, “Learning the offense and knowing what to do … and having the young guys know as much as the older guys.”

Now one of those “older guys,” Bell can tell the rookies they are going to like what they learn. And if opponents think that stopping Bell will stop the Sycamores, he added, they might be surprised.

“I love our system,” he said. “We’re spreading things out, we’re going to throw it and run it … and with [fellow running backs] George Cheeseborough and Taje High, we’re going to do a lot, have a triple threat that is beneficial.”

 Bell should still get the ball often enough to become ISU’s all-time leading rusher before long. He had nearly 1,500 yards last season — a great season by most standards — and wasn’t happy with his contribution.

“I had pretty much of a down year [in 2012],” he said. “There’s a lot more I could’ve done.

“But I always feel my season was not good enough when it’s over,” Bell added. “And my success is not predicated on my numbers, it’s predicated on how the team does.”