ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lobos’ Tackle Plays Final Collegiate Game Saturday vs. TCU
Byron Bell chooses not to dwell on the 14 snaps of the football that essentially cost him a year of college football eligibility.
When asked about his feelings when he looks at fellow members of the New Mexico Lobos’ 2007 recruiting class, all of whom (except Bell) have a year of eligibility remaining, he chooses only to say, “I’m gonna miss those guys.”
Still, says Lobos coach Mike Locksley, it’s a shame.
“A tough deal, a real tough deal,” Locksley says.
Bell, UNM’s star offensive left tackle, is the Lobos’ accidental senior.
In 2007, as a true freshman, he participated in 14 plays of a 58-0 victory over Sacramento State. He never played again that season, and UNM listed him as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and a sophomore in 2009.
Those 14 plays, however, eventually caught up with him. In the 2010 UNM media guide, Bell is listed as a senior. His petition to the Mountain West Conference for a fifth year was denied, his appeal rejected.
So, while fellow 2007 freshmen like linebacker Carmen Messina, safety Bubba Forrest and defensive end Jaymar Latchison will return next year as seniors, Bell will play his final college football game on Saturday against fourth-ranked TCU.
Bell says his focus is on the Horned Frogs, not on what might have been.
“I just know I lost a year of eligibility,” he says, “and there’s nothing I can do about it but keep working and move on from here.”
But to what will he be moving on?
Virtually from the first day he stepped onto a UNM practice field, his coaches have been saying the massive (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) yet agile Bell has all the tools to make it in the NFL.
“I’ve been around a bunch of NFL players,” Locksley says, “and (Bell) has the skill set, in my opinion, to play on Sundays for sure.”
Locksley is not alone.
“He’s a pro,” San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said of Bell before the Lobos-Aztecs game on Oct. 23. “He’s as good a left tackle as we’ll play against.”
Confusion about his classification in school, Locksley believes, might have hurt Bell in some NFL evaluators’ eyes. But, he adds, “Now that his status (as a senior) is finally known, I think he’s definitely on the NFL’s radar.
“Almost all the (NFL) teams have been through here to evaluate all our seniors, and they’ve all asked about Byron Bell.”
Bell’s take on the matter reflects the same attitude he’s taken about his lost season.
“Hopefully, my dreams will come true,” he says, “but all I can do is keep working and let everything sort itself out.”
There’s been plenty to sort out.
Bell, a first-team all-state tackle at Greenville (Texas) High School, chose to attend New Mexico because of the school’s success with offensive linemen under former coach Rocky Long. The Lobos had sent offensive guard Claude Terrell, offensive tackle Terrance Pennington and center Robert Turner to the NFL in recent years.
After the 2008 season, though, Long abruptly resigned. His staff, including offensive line coach Jason Lenzmeier, was gone as well.
For Bell, 2009 was a year to forget.
In June of that year, Bell and Lobos wide receiver Quintell Solomon were arrested after an altercation at a Downtown Albuquerque bar. Charges against both players were dismissed.
That fall, as the Lobos struggled to a 1-11 record, Bell battled personal problems and clashed with his new coaches — occasionally storming off the practice field after heated arguments.
“At this time last year,” Locksley says, “we didn’t know if he’d be around (this year).”
Last spring, still not knowing whether he had one season left or two, Bell made it clear he intended to go the distance as a Lobo.
So he has. Locksley says his senior tackle as had an all-conference-caliber season.
As a team, the Lobos have not. They’re 1-10 entering Saturday’s game, and an offensive lineman has no statistics to prove he’s worthy of recognition.
Once again, Bell says what will be will be.
“I feel that I’m playing up there at the level with the TCU and BYU tackles,” he said. “So, all I can do is keep working and let the Lord bless me from there.”