WARREN — The most important number in determining senior Jhamahl Bell’s success has gone down every year since he was a freshman — and that’s a good thing.
Bell is the starting right guard for the Warren Lumberjacks, and every year he has been in the program, his weight has dropped and his production has increased.
“He weighed 349 pounds as a ninth-grader when we got him,” head coach Bo Hembree said. “And, it was hard but we got him down to about 315 last year.
“The work he put in to get to where he got is just unbelievable. Not too many people in the world who would pay the price to lose that much weight. You’re talking about losing almost 70 pounds in two years and that just proves that he wants to be here, he wants to be a good football player, and he knew that he had to do that to be a good football player. That just tells you his work ethic and his attitude.”
It’s pretty remarkable how far Bell has come. The crowning achievement came in June when he verbally committed to play college football at Arkansas State.
“Coach Steve Caldwell (the school’s defensive line coach), I’ve known him since I was in ninth grade,” Bell said of why he chose A-State. “That was the first coach to ever come down here when I was playing varsity ball, so we kind of got like a relationship.”
Bell struggled his sophomore year at tackle before moving to guard last season.
“My conditioning as a sophomore was terrible,” Bell said. “I couldn’t go but five plays (before needing a break).
“My junior year it got better, dramatically better. … As far as last year, I could go a lot of plays. As far as this year, I feel like I’ve come into my own as far as just playing series after series of straight plays, never stopping.”
According to Bell, as a sophomore he was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 323 pounds. Now just two years later, he’s at 6-4 and 270 pounds.
“My sophomore season I knew I had to do something about it,” Bell said about being out of shape. “I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but conditioning comes with it.
“So, it kind of came off and it helped me (play) better, because like I said I was dramatically, terribly out of shape as a sophomore.”
His coach said the key to Bell’s weight loss and subsequent improved conditioning was self-motivation.
“When he started really losing the weight, he really started understanding what we were doing and why we were doing it and he started being self-motivated,” Hembree said. “And when he did that, he just skyrocketed.”
At Warren, Bell is part of an experienced team. The Lumberjacks return starters at 19 positions, including four on the offensive line, but Bell is the only senior in the group.
“He’s the only senior we’ve got returning up front,” Hembree said. “But, all four of them played a lot last year with him.
“So, I’m hoping that he’ll be a leader for them guys.”
According to his coach, Bell isn’t a vocal leader, but with his work ethic he doesn’t need to be.
“When a guy comes in and loses that much weight and works as hard as he does,” Hembree said, “that’s leadership of its own right there.”
Even still, Bell said he’s trying to take on a more vocal role this season.
“I think seniors should be leaders, so last year I didn’t say much,” Bell said. “But, now I’m coming into a more vocal role, since I am doing the things to be a senior and be a leader.
“Because I was a little immature my past two years.”
The ironic thing is that when Bell joins the Red Wolves, he’ll look to gain weight, albeit in the form of muscle.
“I’m going to have to work on that dramatically,” Bell said of bulking up. “As far as getting ready for D-I ball.
“If everything goes as planned, I will probably redshirt my freshman year, so I can build up some muscle mass.”
Hembree said he was glad Bell made his verbal commitment before the season began.
“That’s what we’ve always done here, ever since I can remember,” Hembree said. “We have a bunch of guys playing college football or have played college football.
“Our biggest deal, is let’s get it over with before we start what we want to do and let that be the focus. … I’m glad he (verbally committed) so he don’t have to worry about that. We don’t have to worry about people calling or doing all that right now. They understand he’s committed to Arkansas State, so that pressure for him is off. All he has to do is go play football now.”
That is, at least until the end of the season.
“I’ll probably evaluate some after the season,” Bell said of his recruitment. “But, for right now, it’s Arkansas State all the way.”