LAWRENCE — The nation knew him by the nickname, a worthy handle for college football’s answer to the battering ram. For two years, his given name — Blake Bell — was not enough. He was the “Belldozer,” the bruising runner who would blow up defenses and dive into the end zone.
The story usually went like this: Oklahoma would need a few yards, coach Bob Stoops would throw Bell into the game at quarterback, and he’d jackhammer his way forward.
He was called a quarterback, but that didn’t really seem like a fitting description for the former All-State QB from Bishop Carroll. Here was a 6-foot-6, 260-pound steam-roller. And the brute efficiency led to cult-hero status in Norman.
But at Kansas, Bell’s cousin, Beau, was always telling anybody that would listen: You think Blake’s just a runner? Wait until you see him pass.
“People would always doubt his passing skills,” says Beau Bell, a KU sophomore linebacker. “But I always knew and told them: Just wait until it’s his turn. He can pass.”
If anybody would know, it would certainly be Beau, who grew up eight houses down from Blake in Wichita.
Blake, of course, grew into one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country, slinging passes all over Wichita and eventually signing with Oklahoma. Beau, meanwhile, starred alongside his cousin at Carroll, playing defense.
“Before I even came here,” Beau says, “I was an Oklahoma fan as well, just because of Blake.”
Now the Bell cousins will be back on the same field on Saturday, when Blake Bell’s Oklahoma Sooners travel to face Kansas at 2:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium.
“It’s gonna be a family reunion,” Beau Bell says.
It will also be Blake Bell’s first start in his home state. After being cast as the “Belldozer” for the past two seasons, racking up 24 rushing touchdowns while spelling starter Landry Jones, Bell lost a preseason quarterback competition with freshman Trevor Knight.
But then Knight went down because of a knee injury against West Virginia on Sept. 7, and Bell seized the opportunity to play. He threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-20 crushing of Tulsa, then led the Sooners to a 35-21 victory at Notre Dame. Lately, though, something has been off. Bell struggled in a 20-17 victory over TCU, and he completed 12 of 26 passes in Oklahoma’s 36-20 loss to Texas last Saturday.
“Blake needs to keep making improvement,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters after the game. “But like all quarterbacks, they need some support around them, too.”
Perhaps Stoops is right. But Kansas hopes to stop Bell from finding his earlier form. And inside the KU locker room, Beau Bell isn’t the only Jayhawk familiar with his cousin. Junior linebacker Michael Reynolds, from Kapaun Mount Carmel, once harassed Bell in a game between Kapaun and Carroll televised on ESPNU. And reserve quarterback Blake Jablonski, who doubles as the Jayhawks’ long-snapper, grew up playing summer basketball with Bell, who showed a glimpse of his “Belldozer” future while playing power forward.
“I was the shooting guard,” Jablonski says. “If they were jumping out on me, I’d pass it to him in the post. He’s so big and strong, he was always able to score.”
Somehow, though, Beau Bell wasn’t gifted the same genetics bestowed on his cousin and younger brother Brett, who is also 6-6. Beau topped out at 5-11, and after spending time at Hutchinson Community College, he was able to latch onto a walk-on spot at Kansas.
“I’m the only one in the family that didn’t get the height genes, I guess,” Beau Bell says.
So while Beau Bell probably won’t see the field against his cousin, Kansas coach Charlie Weis quipped that he wouldn’t mind sending him in to blitz his older cousin.
“I’ve been dreaming about that since I got here, since high school ended,” Beau Bell says. “I’ve been dreaming about that moment.”