TERRE HAUTE —
When running back Shakir Bell garnered little Football Bowl Subdivision interest coming out of Warren Central High School in 2009, the fire that raged within Bell to prove his doubters wrong burned long and hot.
Bell turned to Indiana State to ply his trade and it’s no accident that the Sycamores’ fortunes rose dramatically as he made his presence felt. ISU’s three winning seasons from 2010-12 all came with Bell in a prominent role. Bell’s 4,214 career rushing yards and 30 touchdowns are a testament to his legacy as a Sycamore.
Unfortunately, Bell also finished his ISU career under a cloud. He left the program abruptly in October 2013 in a haze of mystery, injury and recrimination in a he said-he said set of contradictory statements made by Bell and the ISU coaching staff that still hasn’t been completely straightened out publicly.
Bell still doesn’t want to get into his ISU exit publicly. He’s looking forward and feels good that his football career is about to take a turn for the better.
The NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. tonight and continues through Saturday. Bell said that it would be a dream to hear his name heard at some point over the weekend, but if it doesn’t, he’s working hard and preparing himself in the instance he could be signed as an undrafted free agent.
Bell can fall back on his collegiate recruiting experience to prepare him for professional football as his size — Bell is 5-foot-8, 185 pounds — has once again brought doubters out of the woodwork.
Bell’s 40-meter speed was timed at 4.59. Not bad, but not as fast as some pro scouts would like to see for someone Bell’s size. He was rated the 17th-best running back by NFLdraftscout.com and was rated as the 980th best available player by CBS Sports.
Both of those projections would likely put him in the free-agent pool and not among those drafted in the coming days. Not that it fazes Bell. He’s heard it all before.
“I realized in the NFL it’s not really about speed and strength, but if you come in with your lunch pail,” Bell said in a Tuesday phone conversation. “I’ve been hearing my work ethic is out of this world.”
Of course, teams have also asked Bell about his departure from ISU. Bell said he has no ill will towards ISU and is proud of the role he played in making the program a winner during his time in Terre Haute. He declined to go into specifics of his exit, but acknowledged that it gets brought up. Bell is keen on proving he doesn’t have an attitude problem, a knock on him that has cropped up in some of his draft projections.
“It’s definitely a topic that comes up, especially since I tweeted a statement,” said Bell, referring to an October 2013 tweet he later deleted about being dismissed from the team.
“When I had my local pro day 15 teams were there and they just want to make sure that if they make an investment in me that I don’t have any character issues or something that’s being hidden from anyone else,” he added.
At ISU, Bell was predominantly a between-the-tackles runner, and predictably, at his size, he took a lot of punishment. Bell feels his best chance to stick with a team is his versatility, an attribute not always displayed at ISU given his role as the featured back.
“I’m willing to do whatever. Rookies are naturally on special teams and I’m a very good kick return specialist even if I didn’t get to feature it that much at ISU. I tell teams I’m willing to rush the punter. At my pro day, [teams] were surprised to see I was doing receiver routes along with running back drills. I didn’t get that opportunity at Indiana State, but I can do that,” Bell said.
Bell’s been preparing for his shot for several months. His shoulder injury, suffered in the season opener at Indiana, had to be convalesced. He also had a foot injury.
Once healthy, he joined several other Indiana and Midwestern-based draft prospects at the St. Vincent’s Sports Performance pre-draft preparation program in Indianapolis in January and February.
Bell had his pro day along with some of his St. Vincent’s cohorts and was invited to a locals-only tryout with the Indianapolis Colts in April. He’s talked to several teams and unfailingly mentions what a versatile threat he could be for them.
The knocks on him about his size don’t surprise him. He’s heard it throughout his football career. He feels his stature, along with the shoulder injury, have driven down his draft stock.
“It’s always a process. I’m a small-statured guy, but I’m durable. When I came in, I was the seventh-ranked running back in the draft class, but once I had shoulder injury, teams shied away. [The injury] took a lot away from my productivity,” Bell said.
Bell has tried to convince teams he is not injury-prone and points to his production at ISU as evidence.
“I tell teams that I was a 30-to-35 carry guy at ISU. There weren’t too many options other than to give me the ball. I played every game but two in my college career. I try to harp on being very durable,” Bell said.
Bell said he tunes out the myriad draft projections and experts that are ubiquitous in the pre-draft run-up. He said he plans to monitor this week’s NFL Draft proceedings with his mom, grandmother and his daughter, Aniya, born last September.
“My whole thing is focusing on when I get that call, that I’m ready. It’s not always about where you go and how you get there, it’s what you do with opportunity,” Bell said. “I’ll be hoping I do get the opportunity and I’m confident I will.”