HENDERSON, Nev. — Blake Bell was a college football star at the University of Oklahoma. Just not at the position he'd eventually play in the NFL.
Bell became an instant folk hero as a quarterback for the Sooners. He was a quarterback in name but more of a battering ram in practice, running over defensive players. He was just about automatic running in short-yardage situations and he piled up touchdowns. He even had an all-time great nickname: "The Belldozer."
And a decade later, as he prepares to play in Super Bowl LVIII as a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, his days as a college quarterback seem even longer than 10 years ago.
"It has been a wild ride, but man it has been fun," Bell said.
Not many college quarterbacks play nine seasons in the NFL at another position, but Bell pulled it off. He didn't plan on this being his path, though.
"If you were to ask me if I’d play tight end at Oklahoma I’d have looked at you like you’re crazy," Bell said. "I was a quarterback through and through. It’s crazy how things happened."
Blake Bell transitions to tight end
Bell was a big recruit for Oklahoma, the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in his recruiting class out of high school, according to Rivals. He ran for 24 touchdowns his first two seasons at OU as a gadget player and became immensely popular due to his style. He was the starting quarterback most of the 2013 season and helped Oklahoma to the Sugar Bowl. But he missed the bowl game due to injury and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight lit up Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Bell wasn't at Knight's level as a passer and it was clear what the Sooners' future was at the position. Bell said OU coach Bob Stoops sat him down for a conversation.
"I didn’t know if I wanted to transfer and play quarterback somewhere, and he said ‘What about playing tight end?’" Bell said.
"I was like ‘Let’s do it.’ I loved the University of Oklahoma. I’d seen guys transfer and do other things and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I didn’t want to do that my fifth year."
Part of the equation was that Bell wasn't going to make it in the NFL as a quarterback. But at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds with good athleticism, he had a shot at tight end.
"I thought he did a hell of a job at quarterback but once he made the change I thought, 'You can play this game for a long time at tight end,'" said Joe Jon Finley, a graduate assistant at Oklahoma when Bell made the tight end transition and currently OU's co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach.
Bell went to work over the offseason and he credits Finley for helping him. They'd work on basic fundamentals at 6 a.m. at the indoor track building — "Because it had lights," Finley said — and Finley knew pretty quickly that Bell could make the transition. Finley would hold the blocking pad and Bell would knock him back with his strength.
"I wasn't expecting that from a quarterback," Finley said.
Bell had all the attributes you'd want for his new position. That included a good football IQ from a career at quarterback.
"He's kind of picture perfect for what a tight end looks like," Finley said.
He played his final OU season at tight end and even though he caught just 16 passes, he became a mid-round pick in the NFL draft.
Bell finishing up his 9th season
Bell has been an NFL survivor. He had two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers after they drafted him in the fourth round, then seasons with the Vikings, Jaguars, Chiefs, Cowboys, then back to the Chiefs. He has been with Kansas City the past three seasons.
"I'm extremely proud of him because it wasn't easy what he had to do," Finley said.
For a player who got fame at the game's glamour position in college, Bell isn't in the spotlight much as a pro. He has never had more than 15 catches in a season. He has two career receiving touchdowns. And that's OK with him.
"I want to help the team win. It doesn’t matter if I’m in there blocking," Bell said. "I love to block and I know that’s a big role for me on the team."
But when Bell's name does get mentioned during a broadcast, it sparks memories for college football fans. Bell's quarterback days come up with his teammates once in a while, and he'll bring up the time he led a two-minute drill and threw a game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left to beat Oklahoma State. It was his last game at quarterback.
"I’m like, ‘Well, I led a two-minute drive the last time I played,'" Bell said.
The decision to stick at Oklahoma at a new position ended up working out pretty well. It's a remarkable accomplishment to last nine years in the NFL, with two Super Bowl rings already and a chance to earn a third on Sunday.
"It’s crazy, especially the road I’ve had," Bell said.