DeKALB – Cameron Bell was one of the last players to walk off the Huskie Stadium field Thursday morning. His steps were slow. He had position coach Kevin Kane to his left.
If it weren’t for the sweat, pads and look of exhaustion, he would’ve looked more student than athlete.
With Northern Illinois’ spring practices drawing to an end, Saturday’s spring game being the finale, the Huskies senior is a beginner. Again. It’s been less than a week since Bell moved to tight end, a position he never has played. It’s the second position switch in Bell’s career, since he moved to linebacker from running back at Iowa State.
As the conversation ends with Kane, it’s clear Bell is trying to make up for lost time.
“Eye opening,” Bell said when asked about the past two practices. “That’s all I can say, in a nutshell. It’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s a tough move.”
It’s a move the now-former running back never expected coming into his final season. But with NIU’s talented backfield – and the lack of depth at tight end after senior starter Jason Schepler was injured Sunday – Bell sensed an opening.
NIU coach Dave Doeren said Bell came to his office Sunday, not long after the Sycamore graduate Schepler went down. The injury’s severity was unknown at the time, and Doeren said it remained unknown Thursday.
Bell told Doeren he would fill in at tight end for as long as needed.
“It was in the best interest of the team,” Bell said Thursday. “You know, I can’t let my teammates down. It’s a huge burden to take on, but I’m willing to take that challenge. The NIU Huskies are more important. We’re a team. There was a hole. And it needed to be filled.”
When Doeren saw his senior’s unselfishness, he said he was proud.
“He was at a position where there’s a lot of talent,” Doeren said. “It’s not that he’s not talented, it’s just he wants to play. He came into my office and said, ‘Coach, I know my heart is at tailback, but I know the team needs me in that position. And I want to help the team.’ I think it shows what kind of person he is.
“You can write up on the board ‘me’ or ‘NIU’. And he chose NIU.”
Kane said Bell’s football background will help him transition to tight end.
Bell has a reputation for being a physical player. As a tailback, he was a power runner. At linebacker, he once totaled five solo tackles against Nebraska’s rushing attack.
“Just watching him two days, he’s running through people like nothing,” Kane said. “So it’s been fun to watch it. If there’s one thing I tell my guys to do, it’s be physical. If you’re going to mess up, be physical. I don’t care, just be as physical as you can be. And he’s embraced it.”
Learning to let go of those mistakes will be crucial, at least for the near future.
Bell said he’s struggling to adjust at tight end. As someone with high standards for himself – and someone who’s leaving the comfort of his natural position – it’s an uneasy feeling. It’s difficult for him to see past his weaknesses.
“C-minus,” Bell said when asked how he’s done. “My coaches might think otherwise, but I’m hard on myself. I don’t feel like I’ve done my best work. I don’t feel like I’m doing as much as I feel that I can do. So I think C-minus. Maybe D-plus.”
“There’s nothing that I can feel I can say that I’m great at – hands, steps, pass protection. Anything that a tight end has to do, you name it, I’ve got to get better at it. But once you learn to buy in, things gradually come along. I’ll just make day-by-day progress.”