Nick Bell was supposed to play his final collegiate football game this past Saturday. Sadly, Nick’s last game was two years ago.
In late September, 2010, Nick was a sophomore defensive end at Mississippi State University. He had recently started his second game, against the Georgia Bulldogs, and recorded seven tackles, two of them for loss. He was showing a tremendous amount of promise on a defense that boasted at least two future NFL players. However, Nick’s future would take a sudden turn very soon after.
Complaining of migraines at a practice not long afterwards, Nick was taken to the hospital. There, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain, which had to be taken out in October. Soon thereafter, it was discovered that the rare cancer that started there had aggressively spread through his body. More emergency surgery was had, and treatment started immediately.
It seemed at first that Nick was well on the way to recovery. He returned to the sidelines to cheer his teammates on against Alabama-Birmingham, and it seemed as though there was even a chance he would someday play again. However, his condition deteriorated quickly the next week, and he had to be rushed to the hospital on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the cancer, along with complications during surgery, claimed Nick Bell’s life. He was twenty years old.
It’s hard to swallow Nick Bell’s story. You constantly hear tales of gifted athletes who throw it all away with drugs or laziness or criminal activity. It hurts, though, to hear the story of a kid who did all the right things and still had his life cut short. It hurts to know that in an age where the stories you hear from athletes are about dog fighting and steroids, a hard working kid who does the right things has to deal with such a horrible situation. How sometimes bad things happen to good people.
But that’s the thing: Nick Bell absolutely WAS a good person. He was highly respected by his teammates, not necessarily for his physical talents, but because every single day, Nick Bell approached football with a smile and plenty of hard work. He was loved not for an outrageous personality, but because he had made a promise to his mother to always be a mentor to younger kids and be involved in his community.
The impact of his death was huge in the Mississippi State community, too. The fanbase poured out thoughts and prayers to Nick’s family, and the team has honored him in every game since then. His number 36 is written on a patch on every jersey, and the 36 yard line at Scott Field in Starkville, Mississippi, is blacked out in remembrance of him. This past week, on what would have been his Senior Day, the northern endzone was painted with “Nick Bell 36”, making sure that he would be there with his brothers on the team.
Saturday should have been his last football game, but Nick made a larger impact in life than he ever could on a football field. Through his dedication to hard work and community mentoring, Nick proved that life was about more than tackles. The Nick Bell Foundation has been set up in his memory, benefiting those who share his ideals and helping kids grow their potential.
You can’t look at a life like Nick Bell’s and think he didn’t take every opportunity to live it to the fullest. It could be easy to see his story as a sad tale of a life ending much sooner than it should have. Truthfully, though, Nick should be a role model to us all. We can get caught up in the pursuit of dreams or success and forget how important and fulfilling hard work and a smile can be. Nick Bell likely got more out of his 20 years of life than we could in our entire lives.
Nick Bell was supposed to be honored this past Saturday as a senior about to play his final football game. Instead, Nick will be forever honored through the work of the Nick Bell Foundation, and through the lives that he touched with his hard work, smile, and community love.
And you can’t be sad about a story like that.