Kenny Bell figured he would have a chance to contribute, even after he barely saw the field in his first official college football game.
What happened the rest of the way awed even Bell. As the Fairview High graduate prepares for his third year at the University of Nebraska, Bell is aware he will not be able to sneak up on opponents the way he did during a breakout 2011 redshirt freshman season in which he emerged as the Cornhuskers’ No. 1 receiver.
Chances are Bell, whose father Ken played for the Denver Broncos in the late 1980s, will draw far more defensive attention in 2012. But it’s a challenge the always-thoughtful Boulder native is ready to tackle head-on.
“This year I figure my number will be called more, which is great, but it also means defenses are going to be focused on me more,” Bell said in a recent phone interview. “At first, I really wasn’t expecting to see the field as much as I did. When we got to league play, I think I really found my groove. The environment really changed for me as the season went on.”
After redshirting in 2010, Bell played sparingly in the Cornhuskers’ 2011 opener against Chattanooga. However, he made his first collegiate reception the following week, hauling in a 42-yard pass against Fresno State. And in Nebraska’s next game Bell made a highlight-reel grab for a 50-yard reception.
From there, the Fairview grad blossomed quickly into one of the most dangerous wideout threats in the Big Ten. Bell finished the season as Nebraska’s leader in receptions (32), receiving yards (461) and touchdown catches (3), including a 30-yard scoring grab that gave the Cornhuskers an early lead in an eventual loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Bell also turned in the longest touchdown run by a wide receiver in Nebraska history with an 80-yard gallop against Minnesota.
Bell became the second freshman in the long history of Cornhuskers football to lead the club in receptions and receiving yards. With Bell leading the way Nebraska’s receiving corps has morphed abruptly from an inexperienced question mark to one of the strengths of the team. The bulk of that group returns this season, and the 6-foot-1 Bell is expecting to build on the impressive numbers he produced in 2011.
“We have a great core and we’re pretty experienced this year,” Bell said. “I’ve put on a little bit of weight but I think I’m a little faster. The biggest thing has been my route running. It’s those things that set great athletes apart from great players. There are always a lot of great athletes all over the field. It’s the ability to do the little things the right way that will help me continue to improve.”
Always known for his charisma, wit, and outspoken nature, Bell riled up much of his fan base last year when he took to Twitter to proclaim his belief that the 1995 national championship team from Nebraska would lose in a fantasy showdown against the 2005 USC Trojans.
While Bell has reined in some of the frequency of his tweets — “My focus is on football now,” he said — he stands by his opinion and vows to never shy away from speaking his mind.
“We’re not supposed to talk about football on (Twitter), but I think people get too sensitive over opinions. Getting judged off your opinion of something is outrageous. I would never judge a person on their opinion and I like expressing my opinion as much as the next person.”
Follow Pat Rooney on Twitter: @prooney07