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Faith, leadership, and football for Ben Bell

Texas+State+junior+defensive+end+Ben+Bell+%2833%29+runs+out+of+the+tunnel+before+the+Jackson+State+game%2C+Saturday%2C+Sept.+16%2C+2023%2C+at+Bobcat+Stadium.+
Meg Boles
Texas State junior defensive end Ben Bell (33) runs out of the tunnel before the Jackson State game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Bobcat Stadium.

Junior defensive end Ben Bell returns to the Bobcats for a second year after an offseason full of change.

Last season, when he played as a linebacker, Bell had an instantly recognizable look about him. His long, red hair stuck out of his helmet far enough to cover the name on the back of his jersey. But, at the start of fall camp in 2023, Bell showed up thirty pounds heavier with a shaved head.

Bell is one of just a handful of players to return to Texas State after a disappointing 2022-23 campaign that led to a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and roster. According to senior defensive end Sam Latham, even the newcomers were sad to see his hair go.

“I’ve got long hair,” Latham said. “So, it was sad seeing my brother leave his long hair. But he’s got his reasons. So, I’m going to stick behind him no matter what.”

Triple-digit summer heat is not what prompted the new look for Bell. Instead, it serves as a daily reminder of what is truly important to him — his faith. As a child, football was second to only one thing in the Bell household. 

“I grew up with two very strong Christian parents,” Bell said. “So, my faith has always been strong.” 

The pressure of being a Division I college athlete can be intense. For some, the grueling four-month seasons can wear on them. Bell said his 2022-23 season was no different.

“Last season, my mental health was not good,” Bell said. “I tried to put my whole life into football, and I feel like that drained me.”

Bell is determined to make this season different. Ditching the long hair is his way of keeping his mind on what is most important as he makes the decision every day to change his heart.

“My hair is more to myself,” Bell said. “Kind of a contract to myself. Every time I look in the mirror, I have something [to remind me], ‘Don’t live in your old ways. Stay true to the commitment you try to make to God.’ Because God, at the end of the day, he looks at your heart.”

The importance of Bell’s faith is noticeable for teammates and coaches alike.

 “If you know Ben, he puts a lot of time into his faith,” Latham said. “I think it’s perfect for the team.”

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Patke also notices Ben’s impact. He said as a coach, he sees Bell as a leader, and his faith is a big part of it. 

“He’s extremely faithful,” Patke said. “I always say football is a great way to spread your faith and your belief in God. I think he does that in the most professional manner you can.”

Being that Bell is a returner on a team full of new faces, the newcomers and coaches view him as a leader. When it comes to fulfilling that leadership role, Bell is a quiet professional who leads with his actions.

“[He] leads by example,” Latham said. “When the younger guys look up to somebody, they see Ben doing his thing. I take a lot of advice he gives to me.”

Patke agrees and said when you look at it from a coach’s perspective, Bell’s leadership is displayed daily just by how he goes about his business.

“He’s pretty reserved,” Patke said. “But he’s friends with a lot of guys on the team. They look up to him for how he takes care of his body; he cares about his nutrition, he loves the weight room. He handles himself like a pro.”

The 2023-24 season allows Bell to strengthen his faith and test his body. After putting on thirty pounds over the summer, Bell transitioned to the defensive line, fully embracing the challenge.

“Ben’s a natural pass rusher,” Patke said. “He takes a lot of pride in his technical ability as a pass rusher. [He] plays really hard.”

Playing at a heavier weight can be a hard transition, but with all the work he puts into his body, Bell said he is fresh from snap to snap.

“I definitely feel good,” Bell said. “I feel like I got that juice back.” 

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