By Randy York
I remember asking Prince Amukamara last year who was the toughest receiver he's faced, and Nebraska's All-America cornerback and NFL first-round draft choice added a footnote to his official answer. He made a point of saying Kenny Bell, a freshman recruit from Boulder, Colo., had the speed, intelligence, tenacity and savvy to rank right up there with the best receivers in the country. Well, here we are one year later, and Amukamara's analysis appears on target. Now a redshirt freshman, Bell is a playmaker with a walk-on's mindset and a heavy heart.
Last Saturday, Bell caught four passes and accounted for 107 all-purpose yards. The big play, of course, was his 82-yard touchdown sprint on a reverse. It was Nebraska's longest run from scrimmage in seven years and a school record for a freshman. It was the type of play that will get the attention of Michigan State's defense Saturday, but to be perfectly honest, Bell's mind isn't focused on touchdowns, and he says he's playing for more than just wins and losses. He's playing for a cousin who was more like a brother to him growing up ... a 17-year-old who recently flipped his jeep on a mountain during a family vacation, fracturing three vertebrae in the process.
"I was a devastated man," Bell told Omaha WOWT's Greg Ortiz, who reported that Tyler "Hoogie" Hoog, Bell's cousin, is paralyzed from the neck down and is undergoing intense physical therapy at a rehab facility in Atlanta. "The adversity that he's facing right now is 100-thousand times harder than anything I will be faced with in my life," said Bell, who wears a "Hope for Hoog" wristband and writes his cousin's name on his forearms before every game.
Amukamara saw more than just raw talent in Bell last year. He saw character, drive, determination and a maturity beyond his years. Whenever Bell meets the press, he sounds more like a senior than a redshirt freshman. He's articulate, knowledgeable, friendly and comfortable. When I asked him about a couple of teammates who happened to be walk-ons, he confessed that he wears a tattered blue undershirt at every practice and every game as his own personal tribute to Nebraska walk-ons and the Scout Team. That shirt is his daily reminder of how hard he worked to become the Scout Team's Offensive MVP. Even though Bell has what teammate Rex Burkhead describes as the best-looking afro in the country, he listens to country music and loves oldies. "I love Nebraska," he said. "It doesn't get much better than here ... the coaching staff, the game-day atmosphere, the dedication to academics. This place really is second to none."
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