Every player has a story about his path to pro football. Plenty of them are similar. Few mirror Yeremiah Bell’s.
As explained recently by Josh Weinfuss of the Cardinals’ website, Bell had a Rudy-style journey, working in a steel mill before willing his way on to the football team at Eastern Kentucky University.
Sure, EKU is a far cry from Notre Dame. But that makes Bell’s climb to the NFL even more impressive.
Bell became hooked on Eastern Kentucky football by watching the head coach’s weekly TV show, every Sunday afternoon. Bell told colleagues at the mill that he was saving money to enroll at Eastern Kentucky for one year, that he’d walk on to the football team, and that he’d earn a scholarship.
“He always talked about how he’d work his way through college and get to the pros,” Emery Crawford, a coworker at the mill, told Weinfuss. “Everybody just thought he was talking. . . . He’d say, ‘One of these days I’m going to make it to the big leagues.’ I said, ‘Son, I hope you do, but I’ve heard it before.’”
Bell has zero scholarship offers after high school, and he eventually landed at the steel mill, working from 4:30 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. After two years at the mill (and eventually making it to the day shift), Bell enrolled at Eastern Kentucky.
But he still had to get on the football team. To make it happen, Bell called head coach Roy Kidd every week to inquire about tryouts.
“I know I had to give them a headache,” Bell told Weinfuss. “I bugged them to death.”
Eventually, Bell got his chance. Showing up in borrowed cleats two sizes too big, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. And he was on the team.
The climb was still steep. Bell landed in the hospital for three days after cramping severely as a sophomore during two-a-days, and he decided to quit. (Obviously, he changed his mind.)
Bell had success at the small school. He once intercepted Eastern Illinois quarterback Tony Romo twice in the same game, and Bell was named an All-American and the Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year in 2001.
Then, not long before the start of his senior season, Bell ruptured a patellar tendon while playing pick-up basketball. Eastern Kentucky’s trainer, Johnda Wireman, worked the leg back into shape and gave Bell constant encouragement about his football future.
Despite the injury, the Dolphins picked the Division I-AA defensive back in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. He didn’t make the team as a rookie, landing instead on the practice squad. By 2004, Bell had cracked the roster. In 2006, he started 11 games.
In 2009, he made it to the Pro Bowl.
After nine years with the Dolphins and one with the Jets, Bell is preparing to extend the unlikeliest of NFL careers to 11 seasons, with the Cardinals. Wherever the journey goes from here, Bell’s story deserves far more attention, because it proves yet again that a combination of talent, hard work, dedication, and perseverance can take a person from places like a steel mill in Kentucky to the top of the sports world.