Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell believes the long break between the Bearkats’ semifinal victory over Montana Dec. 16 and the NCAA Division I National Championship game Jan. 7 has been beneficial for him and his teammates.
“The break really helped us out,” the sophomore signal-caller from China Spring said. “We’ve been going at it since August so it was good to get some rest. Wednesday, we really came out motivated in our first practice. We’re looking forward to the big game next Saturday.”
The championship finals at Pizza Hut Park Saturday in Frisco pits No. 1 seeded Sam Houston against No. 2 North Dakota State.
“Obviously they are a great team,” Bell said. “They have really good play makers and are very quick on defense. They are very disciplined and don’t take any bad steps. They’re smart and technically sound.”
Since becoming the Bearkats’ starting quarterback as a true freshman in the third game of the 2010 season, Bell has led Sam Houston to a 19-3 record.
All-Southland Conference center Travis Watson remembers sizing up then-freshman quarterback Brian Bell at the start of fall camp in 2010 and being a tad skeptical of his new teammate’s abilities.
While he was listed at 175 pounds when he signed with the Kats,Watson said he looked “about 150 pounds soaking wet.” The wiry kid didn’t have the physical appearance of a typical Division I quarterback, but he was working diligently to grasp command of the Bearkats’ option-style offense.
As time went along, Watson got the sense Bell wasn’t the average freshman.
“I was really surprised at how calm and collected he was in the huddle as a true freshman,” said Watson, a fifth-year senior. “I’ve been around for a while and seen a lot of people be kind of antsy and not sure of themselves. But everything was calm and cool with Brian.”
Bell has been the same cool customer since.
The China Spring native led Sam Houston State to victories in six of its final nine games that year with Bell under center.
Bell has been better as a sophomore, leading the Bearkats to their first 14-0 regular season, an undisputed Southland Conference championship, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I playoffs and a finals berth.
Bell stacks up rather well when compared with recent successful Bearkats quarterbacks. But unlike most of them, Bell didn’t come to Sam Houston State via transfer from a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
Before Bell’s arrival, the last two quarterbacks to lead Sam Houston State to the FCS playoffs were transfers Josh McCown (SMU) and Dustin Long (Texas A&M) in 2001 and 2004, respectively. Both were there for only one year and were named SLC Player of the Year. The Bearkats’ previous other SLC Player of Year was transfer quarterback Chris Chaloupka (Oklahoma State) in 1999.
The Bearkats continued their history of notable transfer quarterbacks with Rhett Bomar (Oklahoma) in 2007-08 and Blake Joseph (Houston) in 2009. Transfer Phillip Daugherty (Texas Tech) was a part-time starter in 2005.
However, Bell’s ascension last season gave the Bearkats a rare chance to have a four-year starter around whom they could build their program.
“It makes things so much easier (with a high school quarterback) than getting a junior college guy or getting a transfer who’s got one or two years left,” said head coach Willie Fritz. “We want to build this program primarily with high school kids. Ninety percent of our guys are high school guys, and you’d certainly like your quarterback to be one of them.”
Bell comes from a football family. His father, Mark, is the head coach and athletic director at China Spring High School, where Brian went 21-4 as a starter in his final two seasons. His older brother, Shawn, also starred at China Spring before becoming a four-year letterman and two-year starter at Baylor. Shawn Bell is now the head coach at Magnolia West High School.
“Obviously, it’s helped me a great deal growing up around football with my dad and my older brother,” Bell said. “My brother and I talk a lot and any time he offers advice, I’m ready to take it. He’s more than a brother, he is my best friend.”
Bell’s initial college offers came from Central Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana and Ohio. Sam Houston State was the last program to swoop in with an offer. Fritz said he was hesitant at the time to add another high school quarterback because the Bearkats had a lot of scholarship players at the position, but he was swayed to give Bell a serious look on the advice of coaching friends.
The decision to accept Sam Houston State’s offer was a no-brainer for Bell.
“This was my only (offer) in Texas, and I wanted to stay close to my family,” he said. “When coach Fritz was coming in, I knew from his attitude that he was going to turn this thing around. Coach Fritz and being able to stay in Texas were the main reasons.”