WICHITA, Kan. — John Settle stood inside the Hyatt Regency and watched Blake Bell pose for pictures, patiently waiting his turn just before Thursday evening’s Sooner Caravan event began.
“I admire him,” Settle said, “because everybody wants to be the quarterback. But based on where we’re at with the team right now, the best place for him on the Sooners is tight end. It looks to me like he’s taken that on and is happy to be there.”
Yes, it seems nothing — not last season’s ups and downs, a position change nor a frustrating knee injury that prematurely ended Bell’s 2014 spring — can sully the way those in and around the OU senior’s hometown feel about him. On the contrary, Bell’s run of gridiron difficulties over the past year have made him even more popular, largely because of the graceful way he’s handled them.
“I think it’s just a part of life,” Bell said. “It’s a part of football. Everything’s not gonna go your way; that’s in anything you do. You might have a bad quarter; you might lose a game, but you’ve always got to come back the next week, come back the next quarter and keep playing.”
After becoming a cult hero as the “Belldozer,” Bell was considered the heavy favorite to become Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in the 2013 season opener.
Trevor Knight won the job instead, and although Bell eventually started eight games — including the Sooners’ historic victory at Notre Dame — and came off the bench to lead a game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State, Knight’s Sugar Bowl MVP performance in January made him the clear-cut signal caller entering 2014.
Instead of transferring, Bell stayed in Norman for his senior season and switched positions to tight end.
“He’s been blessed with a frame of mind that is pretty much on the happy side,” said Johnnie Bell, Blake’s 87-year-old grandfather who lives in Wichita. “He always looked on the better side of things. He was always proper.
“In fact, I think he handled (last season) better than I did.”
Asked if watching the Sugar Bowl from the sideline was bittersweet, Bell quickly responded, “It was all sweet. You know, obviously I can sit here and tell you I’d love to play. I’d love to help the team, but as I was on the sideline watching that game, it was unreal.
“Trevor couldn’t miss a ball. Every ball was on the money. He played his heart out. Everyone around us was playing good, too. It was a great atmosphere. I’m happy for everything and it was a team victory.”
Settle, an OU alum and attorney who lives two hours northeast of Wichita in Larned, Kan., said Bell’s attitude represents what makes him proud to be a Sooner.
“That’s one of the things I like about OU football and OU as a whole; in my opinion it’s a university that has a lot of class,” Settle said, “and Blake’s a good example of that.”
Bell’s position change appeared to be going well until he suffered a sprained knee about a week before the Sooners’ spring game. The 6-foot-6, 258-pound former quarterback has a seemingly prototypical body to play tight end.
“Obviously getting down in a three-point stance and banging around with Geneo (Grissom) and (Charles Tapper) and those guys, it’s been difficult in that part, but it’s been fun too,” Bell said. “I’ve had a great time and got better each day.
“Maybe this is my position. Maybe God had a plan for me, because this came pretty easy to me.”