From WSU to NFL

Joique Bell is the epitome of hard work, persistence and determination-so focused on his future that he didn’t drink alcohol until his draft night toast with family and friends.

As the sports writer for WSU’s official student newspaper, the South End, my editor briefed me on my new assignment, covering a running back from Benton Harbor, Mich., who was Wayne State’s version of NFL great Barry Sanders. 

According to the Wayne State athletic department website, Bell amassed 6,728 career rushing yards (sixth in Division-II/8th in NCAA history), while his 152.9 rushing yards per game rank 25th in NCAA history for Division-II. His four-year Wayne State Warrior, football legacy would later be enshrined when he won the 2009 Harlon Hill trophy as the nation’s top NCAA Division II player.

I would soon witness this “phenom” with my own eyes. I witnessed the work ethic and dedication to excellence that Bell brought to practice and game preparation. I saw what very few people saw-the grueling workouts, tight schedules and the pain.

Many times, he sat in tubs of ice, mending and focusing on his future. He did all of this while maintaining his rigorous course work and graduating with a criminal justice degree.


Standing in the press box watching him break tackles and run for touchdowns was a sight to behold. It was hard to be an objective reporter and not become a fan of this guy. He was extremely knowledgeable about the game and surprisingly honest about his shortcomings.

I never heard Bell talk publicly about a teammate; he put the blame for team losses on his own back. Bell was humble during interviews, especially when asked about a record he had just shattered.

I remember one post-game press conference when it took Bell longer than usual to come into the press room before he walked in with a little boy. Bell answered my questions and paused to tell the toddler to hush, while he finished his interview.

As he stood to leave I asked him who the little boy was. When Bell responded that the boy was his son, I realized there was much more to Bell than what we saw on game day.

I convinced my editor to allow me to write a full feature on Joique Bell. In the months leading up to our major interview for this feature on his senior year, I watched him, heading to early morning weightlifting training and then class.

I watched him on campus in his police cadet uniform, taking his role as security for the university seriously.

I learned when Bell was a freshman at Benton Harbor High School his teammates said he was slow. So, every day after school Bell would sprint in his backyard and run from mailbox to mailbox. By the next season, he was one of the fastest guys on the team. Some said Bell was arrogant but I saw him as confident. 

I knew he was headed for pro-football. I couldn’t wait to do my interview and learn more about this young man. Bell down-played my suggestion of him being NFL bound. He said if he made it to the league, it would be a dream come true, but more importantly, relished the accomplishment of graduating from college.

Bell comes from a family that is grounded in their faith in God. It has been that foundation that has kept him motivated and driven. His mother, Althea Gibbs, is a praying mother who has always believed in her son’s ability and determination. I would often see Gibbs at home games smiling and cheering her son on.

Benton Harbor, a town three hours southwest of Detroit, is 89 percent African American, and the poorest city in the state. Bell grew up playing sports, and the tuba, while trying to stay out of trouble, something he saw peers fall into, leading to their misfortune.

Bell said his work ethic came from his passion to be a living role model for his community. He would read stories of how athletes would make it to the big leagues and lose it all making bad decisions. He made a promise a long time ago it wouldn’t be his fate.

Every weekend another pro-scout was sitting next to me in the WSU press box watching Bell. But, with all the statistics and records broken and set, Bell still found himself left behind on NFL draft night.

He signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills. And later played for the Saints, Colts and Eagles before landing back home in Detroit, with the Lions. Bell’s hard work got him the opportunity. His persistence earned him a shot at the league.

Bell’s determination has earned him a spot on the Lions active roster. It is still possible for a young man from a small town in Michigan to dream big dreams and watch them come true.

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