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LINCOLN — The realization that buried Kenny Bell's selfish tendencies came at some point last year.
He's not sure when exactly this happened, or how obvious it was. Some teammates suggest they saw something after the Minnesota victory, when Bell caught a team-high four receptions and took an 82-yard reverse to the house. Others observed a gradual transformation. Quincy Enunwa, who used to live with Bell, hardly recognized a change in demeanor.
What's certain is this: The source of Bell's motivation has been adjusted, a cognitive shift that the sophomore receiver says turned a misguided “punk” into the outspoken, example-setting leader that his teammates respect.
“I was in my own world. I didn't really care what other people thought,” Bell said. “I was about ‘what can I get out of this program that can help me?'”
Then something clicked.
“There was a changing point,” he said. “I realized I can make a difference in our program and not be so selfish about it.”
The statistics certainly indicate growth. He's the team leader in catches and receiving yards, more precise in his route running and more reliable with his hands. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but he makes up for his smaller frame with high effort, especially when he blocks for running plays.
And he's fast. Fast enough that when Bell catches a pass over the middle and breaks free — like the one he snatched about 25 yards past the line of scrimmage against Ohio State — Enunwa joked that a teammate trailing the play should simply give up.
“As soon as I get to full speed and he's still pulling away from me, that's when I've got to stop,” Enunwa said, smiling.
But there's more to Bell's emergence, most of it occurring behind the scenes.
Teammates say he's more positive. Quick to encourage guys in practice, said senior tight end Ben Cotton. Sophomore Jamal Turner said Bell doesn't always give the rah-rah speech, instead choosing to build players up in a one-on-one setting.
Bell never takes a day off, either, Turner said.
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“He became a leader in my eyes just because he would go out and practice really hard to get everybody's respect to say, ‘Hey, I'm doing it, why won't you do it?'” Turner said. “Guys listen to him because of that.”
Bell hopes so. He spoke up at a players-only meeting last week because there were certain things “aching” at him. He wants to go out of his way to improve the team.
“Sometimes it takes awhile to understand what's going on, to find your role,” Bell said. “I've been blessed enough to really find mine.”
That doesn't mean he's stopped setting individual goals. He still wants to be the best pass-catcher in the Big Ten. And this week, he revealed his desire to be NU's first 1,000-yard receiver (he has 463 at the midway point).
But personal satisfaction isn't the driving force behind his efforts, Bell said. He pushes himself for his teammates.
“It's not about one guy or even a group of guys. It's about everybody,” Bell said. “I didn't look at it like that when I was younger.”
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