Joique Bell is a man of balance. With a career that has been super-charged by recent on-field success like Sunday’s 13 carries, 73 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Detroit Lions’ win; keeping his life in order is a top priority, along with…well, winning.
Bell is no stranger to success. His time at Benton Harbor High School was filled with it. He was named First Team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection in 2004 after rushing for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Fast forward to his time at Wayne State University. In 2009, he was selected as the recipient of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Division II equivalent of the Heisman. While it’s clear that ‘accomplishment’ is a perfect word to describe Bell’s 26 years of breathing, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude ‘persistence.’
After going undrafted in 2010, he signed with the Buffalo Bills and made the practice squad. Then, after just a few weeks, he was waived and re-signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and then waived again shortly thereafter. In fact, 2010 was a busy year for Bell. He likely racked up scores of frequent flyer miles, playing brief stints with four different teams.
Without a doubt, 2010 was not Bell’s best year, dealing with injuries and the ups and downs of the NFL’s business backbone. But at the very end of 2011, things changed. Dec. 26 at 3:19 p.m., Tim Twentyman, Lions' insider, tweeted that Bell was “no longer on anyone’s practice squad.” He was coming back home to Detroit and would be taking the field in Honolulu blue.
Going into week nine of the season, Bell’s 227 receiving yards on the season rank second in the NFC among running backs, and he has averaged almost 22 offensive snaps per game. With the numbers he is producing, it’s no surprise the former Wayne State player, once again, has the spotlight.
Last week I spoke with Bell, not just to talk strictly about football -- if you want that, check out any media outlet that covers sports -- but to talk about Joique Bell, the man off of the gridiron.
We sat down at The Social Club, a local WSU barbershop, where Bell still comes each week to have his hair lined up. The first thing I noticed was the large green-and-gold headphones he had on.
**What kind of music do you like?**
“Oh man, music has always been a part of me. I like classical music. After a long day, I like to relax to classical music; it always calms me down. I started in marching band when I was really young. I started in fifth grade and continued all through high school.”
**What instrument did you play?**
“I started out playing the baritone horn, then switched to the tuba. We did a lot of band competitions; it was really, really big at my high school. Our band wasn’t the traditional military style band because we did a lot of modern dance, hip-hop and R&B. When I was growing up, my friends and I would go down to the football games to see the band, everybody wanted to be in band.”
**Tell me about growing up in Benton Harbor.**
“I was really a blessed, lucky kid. Growing up in Benton Harbor, times were rough. I would never get new shoes or new clothes. My mom worked all types of hours. My dad was a pastor and also worked for the police department in St Joseph, Mich., right across the bridge. My parents divorced when I was 11, and my dad moved to Louisville, Ky. My mom came very close to moving to Indianapolis. I didn’t want to go, but I went down there and looked at a few schools. We ended up not moving; I think coaches in Benton Harbor convinced her to stay.”
**Were you close with your parents?**
“I’m very family-oriented. We are all very close, especially on my mother’s side. My parents gave me a good foundation. I still talk with my dad, but our relationship is not as strong because of the distance. He’s just not able to be here. It motivates me to be around my son as much as possible. He just turned seven, and I try to be with him every chance I get. I feel it’s very important to be around him, and I love just teaching him little things here and there. My parents did a good job with me, and I want to be able to pass that along to him. My parents taught me that money doesn’t define you. I was always told that ‘The money doesn’t make the man. The man makes the money.’ I was taught to put God first, family first, and growing up we were never focused on being poor. I feel blessed to make it out.”
**Can you tell me about some of your accomplishments that are not sports related?**
“Academics have always been important to me. I graduated high school with a 3.0, and I have my degree in criminal justice from Wayne State University.”
**Does it feel good to have your degree?**
“Yes it does! Although I haven’t really used it yet...(laughing).
"But yeah, coming from working for the Wayne State Police Department, working Lions’ security, football, school full-time, making sure my son has what he needs, making sure rent and bills are all taken care of. You know, it’s hard, but I think that is an accomplishment, learning to budget my time, money and taking responsibility for that as an adult. You learn real quick out here that there is always a consequence for everything you do, whether it’s good or bad. I never want to put myself in a position where I do something and my children have to deal with that. My son has to go to school every day, and his dad is in the spotlight. My image is important to me, and I need to protect it. I understand that when I’m out in public I represent where I’m from: my parents, my church, my city, WSU and now the Detroit Lions organization.”
**Can you tell me what it’s like to be back playing in Detroit after bouncing around the league in 2010?**
“Detroit is home for me. It means a lot more to be playing here in Detroit. I have family, my fans and my Wayne State family is here. To be on the platform that I’m on is really an amazing feeling, and being able to represent myself and my teammates and be a part of something like this. God has really blessed me, and I will never take it for granted but I will take advantage of it.”
**What’s the most important advice someone has given you throughout your journey? Who was it from?**
“Yeah, my godfather, Maurice Burton, told me that when I got to the league a lot of people were going to start asking me for things, which I kind of knew was coming. You have people coming out of the woodwork asking for things. The people who really care about you are usually the ones who aren't asking for anything; they’re just happy you made it. But there are always some delicate situations with family members.”
**Do you feel like you owe certain people something?**
“My mother and my godparents. My mom made a lot of sacrifices for me growing up, and even though I feel like I owe a lot to her, she hates to take anything from me. She’s just a proud mom, and I can't blame her for that.”
**What does an average postgame Sunday evening look like for you?**
“Depends. I like family to come down. There is always family at every game. I like them to come down, and we usually get something to eat. I’ll have my son, my girlfriend and her son come to the games. My son has been to every home game.”
**Has he met some of your teammates?**
“Yeah, he came down to opening day practice, I brought him over to meet Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, and we all took a picture. Calvin gave him one of his gloves. He loved it. My son is very kind-hearted. When I ask him who his favorite player is, he always says ‘Calvin Johnson and my daddy’(using high-pitched, little kid voice) just to make me feel good. He gives me that spark when I know he’s in the crowd. It’s just a wonderful feeling. I know that he will always cherish these times and experiences. I will, too.”
**Getting back to this national attention you are getting, how does it feel to have years of hard work finally pay off?**
“Of course I work hard, but I am only able to be effective because of the other 10 guys on the field. Calvin is, in my opinion, one of the very best receivers in the league, and I’m not saying that because he’s my teammate. I’ve felt that way for some time now. We have Brandon Pettigrew, who you have to respect his production. Stafford has great pin-point accuracy, and a great offensive line that is really stepping up, giving the QB time to make plays. All I have to do is catch it and run with it. Because of those guys, I am able to be effective.”
**Last thing, I noticed you are pretty active on Twitter…**
“Ugh…a little bit. I get on there every once in awhile. I really don’t have too much to say. I get on there now and again and say something stupid (laughing), say something inspirational or copy a quote and put it on there. I don’t really tweet like that. I check it from time to time if I’m at home, maybe done studying and get on there. I’m like, umm, ‘what am I going to talk about?’ I see some of the silly things people put on there like ‘I’m watching TV’...like we care if you’re watching TV… (laughing). I don’t want to be that guy.”
After asking my prepared questions, we sat in the tiny back room for a couple of minutes making small talk. Bell answered most of my questions in a steady, calm voice, with the exception of him talking about his son.
He couldn’t have been humbler throughout the interview, that although he is tasting success this season, it’s just the beginning for him. With almost every answer, he included his goal of staying balanced and level-headed, especially now.
He coolly deflected my question about personal success and referred to his teammates on the field. Bell is a player who just now is beginning to find his place in the league.
If Bell is able to maintain this type of production and humbleness each week, there is a good chance he will be calling Detroit ‘home’ for a long time.