Spring break is on the downside now. The Nebraska football team will resume practice on Monday. And Kenny Bell isn’t exactly looking forward to that resumption.
But he’s not dreading it, either.
As coach Bo Pelini might say: It is what it is.
And what spring practice is is important.
“I’ll call a spade a spade; nobody likes spring ball,” Bell said following practice two days before the break began. “But the teams that have success are teams that are mentally tough enough to come out and work hard every single day. You ask any player, coach, anybody, if spring ball matters.
“It’s a very important time for each team. It’s about developing talent and developing your team. I mean, I wouldn’t describe it as fun. But it’s important; that’s for sure.”
Acknowledging the importance of spring practice isn’t sufficient to get one through it, of course. Even the most dedicated players have to be pushed, on occasion. Bell has learned that during his time at Nebraska – this is the third spring for the wide receiver, a junior-to-be.
“If you can’t do it yourself, you’ve got teammates to help you out, and obviously, the coaches are always trying to get you going,” he said. “But when you hear it from your coaches, you hear it so much that sometimes it’s just noise. And I don’t mean it in a disrespectful way.
“But sometimes it’s better to hear it from the guys that are out there, sweating and bleeding with you, say, ‘Hey, come on, we’ve got three hours to go bust our rumps, and we can go win football games in the fall.’ That little encouragement is a big difference because here’s this guy that’s doing the same thing, just as tired, just as worn out, but if he can do it, why can’t you?”
That rhetorical question reflects one of the things on which Bell is working: leadership. Another is “route-running,” he said. “I tend to lean on my speed in a negative way. I expect to win running, which is a good thing at times. But I’ve got to learn the little nuances of the game in getting open.”
Case in point: Last season’s game at Michigan State.
Bell caught five passes in the 28-24 victory against the Spartans. But only one of the receptions came during the second half, early in the fourth quarter, for 5 of his 31 receiving yards.
Studying film of the Michigan State game showed him that when “I faced corners that can run real well, like (Darqueze) Dennard and Johnny Adams could, I struggled,” Bell said.
“They did a pretty good job of covering me.”
Adams completed his eligibility. But Dennard returns for a senior season.
Bell didn’t figure out things on his own.
“That’s coaching,” he said. “You have to be able to take coaching, and Coach ‘Fish’ (Rich Fisher) and Coach (Tim) Beck pointed out to me, they showed me examples of it on film. Sometimes my speed can be a good thing, but I need to learn not just to rely on it.
“I can run by some people now, but when I get against guys that are solid corners – and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody else that I played against – but with . . . Michigan State, those guys ran so well, I wasn’t getting open, and it was hurting our offensive play.
“So that’s something I need to approach and better myself in.”
He’ll resume the on-field part Monday, the first of six remaining practices before the spring game. But he never takes a break from trying to better himself, not even during spring break.
“I actually really do enjoy playing football every day. It’s a blessing, and I really wish I never had to stop,” Bell said, again before the break began. “But at the same time, your body gets worn down; it’s just begging for a break. So it’s tough. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’ll feel good. Our bodies will come back feeling good, but then that rust from not playing games starts to creep in, and we’ll have to knock all that off. So yeah, I’m a little bit excited just to get my body rested.”
He also was excited to go home to Boulder, Colo., and be with family.
“But at the same time, I’m interested in bettering myself to be the best player I can for the fall,” he said. “So it’s a love-hate kind of thing.”