It all started with a blue jersey.
Kenny Bell was relatively unknown, but it was a blue practice jersey that catapulted the junior into the spotlight. Everyone wanted to know what he wore it for. Was it good luck? Was he superstitious?
For Bell, it was simple; he wanted to remember where he started.
On the scout team, Bell wore his blue practice jersey with pride. It would be something that would follow him through the 2011 season as a redshirt freshman. Between the jersey, his afro and his apparent love for his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, the stories surrounding Bell were fascinating. Those stories began to shift in 2012.
Stories about the “303” and the jersey slowly faded from reporters’ stories on Bell, replaced by something bigger than it all: His talent.
The 2012 season put Bell in the spotlight for his ability. Records began to fall as games went by and Bell never slowed down. His 863 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 landed him on the First-Team All-Big Ten list of the Big Ten Network, CBS, ESPN and Phil Steele, respectively.
With the 2013 season on the horizon, Bell’s story continues to evolve. The questions now lie around his future legacy as a Husker. With that, where does Bell fall in comparison to past Nebraska receivers?
Nebraska doesn’t have a long history of throwing the football, so finding an adequate comparison for Bell doesn’t go back much further than 2004. A good place to start is the comparison to former Nebraska wide receiver Maurice Purify, a 2007 graduate who is currently a member of the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. In his career as a Husker, Purify racked up 1,444 yards for 16 touchdowns over two seasons. His longest catch was 63 yards versus Texas.
Purify would end his career ranked sixth on the Nebraska career receptions list. His 16 touchdowns would also place him second on the Nebraska career charts, which trailed only 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers.
As of now, Bell boasts 1,324 yards for 11 touchdowns. His longest catch is 74 yards against Ohio State in 2012. Assuming Bell does not declare for the draft at the end of 2013, this would leave the Colorado native with two more seasons than Purify.
Another receiver worth matching Bell up against is 2008 senior Todd Peterson. His four seasons with Nebraska landed him fourth on Nebraska’s All-Time Receptions List and Career Receiving Yardage List. He was known as reliable, ending his career with 1,602 total yards for 13 touchdowns. His longest catch was 48 yards versus Oklahoma.
In comparison, Bell is a much bigger power player than Peterson was. Unlike Purify though, Peterson gives a full four years (plus a redshirt season), similar to Bell, to compare to. If anything, Peterson’s statistics show just how outstanding Bell was as a sophomore in 2012. Peterson boasted 307 as a sophomore in 2006, compared to Bell’s 863 yards at the same point in his career.
When talking about Bell, the name that is most often brought up in comparison is Nate Swift. Similar to Bell and Peterson, Swift did redshirt his first year with Nebraska, continuing on to play an additional four years. His total yardage would fall at 2,476 yards for 22 touchdowns. His career long was 67 yards versus Oklahoma.
Swift is currently second in Nebraska history in season receiving yards (941) and career receiving yards (2,476). Bell is on his way to topping both of those numbers.
Bell is also chasing Swift’s season touchdowns record (10) and career touchdown record (22). Looking at the year-to-year comparison of Bell to Swift, it seems very possible Bell will top each record he currently does not have. After all, Bell blew most of the sophomore receiving records out of the water and has nothing but time on his side.
Comparatively, Bell is also given the long ball far more than Purify, Peterson and Swift were ever given. With quarterback Taylor Martinez working continuously on his throwing abilities, it has given Bell an excellent chance at crushing most records standing in his way.
The narrative for Bell’s 2013 is simple: How many records can the junior break?
Over time, it has become less about his blue jersey, his hometown or his afro, and instead about what he is able to accomplish on the field. While “Throw to the Fro” shirts will still be worn and the student that dresses like Bell for every home game will remain, Bell is beginning to write his bigger story.
The bigger story for Bell is the legacy he will leave at Nebraska.
And to think it all started with a blue jersey.