Bell, a redshirt freshman, has been the starter since the beginning of the season and after a somewhat tumultuous initiation has rebounded nicely the last few games. And, as he grows, the offense appears to be growing with him as the Dolphins attempt a drive at a Pioneer Football League championship.
His initiation was at then third-ranked Georgia Southern in the season opener, a 58-0 loss.
Bell finished the game nine of 17 passing for a mere 56 yards and more offense-related penalties than anyone cares to remember.
“That was a big experience,’’ he said. “I played not real great, but I feel like every week after that we’ve built and built and gotten better.’’
Indeed the numbers would attest to his belief. In the last three games he has completed 70.2 percent of his passes, thrown six of his nine touchdown passes and was involved five JU touchdowns either by pass or run in last week’s win at Morehead State.
Bell says the progression has been a matter of team trust, comfort and his maturity.
“We have gained trust in each other,’’ he said. “If I do what I have to do and the next guy does what he has to do and it goes down the, we can be a great offense. It’s experience and confidence that we can do this.’’
The trust and experience has led to a higher comfort level.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable around the offense and around the players,’’ Bell said. “Even at practice I’m more vocal and I’m trying to get the offense how my dad wants it run.’’
Did you get that last part? “How my dad wants it run.’’
If being a freshman quarterback taking over for the most prolific signal caller in JU history, Josh McGregor, weren’t difficult enough, young Bell has the expectations of his father, and coach, Kerwin, to think about it. And Kerwin was pretty fair in his day.
“It was hard at first,’’ Kade Bell said. “With dad being the coach, you don’t want anybody to take it easy on you and I felt like I had to get the trust of the older guys. The last couple of weeks I feel like I can be more of a leader and have run the offense the correct way and everybody else follows. I have their back and they have mine.’’
Kade said his dad’s style hasn’t changed much over the years.
“He coached me when I was in little league basketball and it’s the same,’’ he said. “I was 10 years old and he yelled the same way he does now. We didn’t lose a game. I’m kind of hard headed and so is he but you’ve got to trust him because he knows what he’s doing. The more I’ve become comfortable with the offense and able to make better decisions and do the right thing, I’m not going to get yelled at.’’
Father/coach is happy with the progress.
“For as young as he is, I’ve thought he’s handled himself really well,’’ Kerwin Bell said. “Early on, he didn’t put us in a lot of bad situations and managed the game really well for a young kid and now he’s starting to grow and see things a lot better and realize the potential he has in his ability.’’
The coach made clear what he looks for in his quarterback and sees those things blossoming.
“I’ve always felt as a quarterback coach I can develop a guy as a pocket passer so I am looking for a guy who has the ability to do the other things,’’ Kerwin Bell said. “ I’ve seen him develop just as McGregor did as a new kid who is really starting to develop all phases of his game. If he continues to do that I think he has a chance to be a pretty good player in this league.’’
“I’ve become more mature in the pocket and understanding the offense and what to do, what the coaches and players are asking me to do. I think I’ve matured a lot in that aspect of the game,’’ Kade Bell said. “I’ve started watching a lot more film and last week I watched a bunch on Morehead State. It helps knowing more and being a student of the game and I think that goes back to maturity, take time to watch their opponent.’’
It must have helped. The Dolphin offense amassed a season-high 480 yards on offense.
“I think the team is growing with him,’’ Kerwin Bell said. “Early on everybody was a little unsure of our quarterback situation and a lot of people on the offensive side of the ball and I think that’s what’s helped the last couple of weeks is people are taking more leadership roles.’’
As for the father/son, coach/player thing, the coach has taken steps to make the relationship with the quarterback and team a lot less stressful than it could have been.
“It’s not been real hard,’’ Kerwin Bell said. “I’ve called on the assistants who I trust a lot and got some of their opinions on the situation. I’m trying to make sure we’re making the right decisions and that we’re being fair to everybody. I want to be sure Kade earns what he gets and I think he’s done that.’’
- Jim Nasella