When the Bell Tolls

Former Gator quarterback <B>Kerwin Bell</B> sounds off on Chris Leak, his style offense, coaching high school football and more.

The University of Florida played host to the Florida High School Coaches Clinic this week, which invites any and all H.S. coaches to learn from college coaches, and, to watch some of the Gators spring practice.

One of those H.S. coaches is none other than former Florida QB Kerwin Bell, who enters his third year at the helm of Ocala Trinity Catholic.

"I'm enjoying it," said Bell. "We played for a district championship…we've played in the play-offs. We were 6-4 last year with our first senior class. We've got a lot of young talent coming. So, I think it'll just get better next year…and, the years to come. They take the challenge. We ran over 250 plays last year on offense."

Bell said he runs a ‘college-pro-type' offense, "We don't hold anything back with our receivers…or, our quarterbacks…or, our reads. We demand a lot. With that, they have to dedicate themselves. They've done a great job at working at it. You have to give our players credit for being able to learn it (this type of offense), and, to execute it the way they have."

From college to the pros, Bell has worked under eleven different offensive systems. He said that his system is ---- and, who would've thought? --- a combination of Lindy Infante, and, yes, you guessed it --- Steve Spurrier. (I never would've put those two coaches together).

Infante was Bell's offensive coordinator when he played for the Indianapolis Colts. And, of course, before that, he was a graduate assistant coach at Florida at the beginning of the Spurrier Era.

"Infante stretched the field horizontally better than anybody I've seen. And, then Spurrier…with they way we implement things on the field at Trinity…is a lot of what I got from him. With his passing game, I thought Spurrier was the best at attacking people vertically," said Bell, adding that, "I try to take those two offenses…put them together, and, create the kind of offense we're running."

When Bell was growing up, his idol was QB Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys. "I wore number 12 because he wore number 12. The way he handled himself on and off the field…that's the guy I really tried to be like (as a player). He was very cool, and, always did the right thing. He was just a winner."

Bell was at Florida from 1984 to 1987, and, played thirteen years of pro football --- four in the National Football League and seven in the Canadian Football League (CFL). North of the border, Bell threw more than 100 touchdown passes, and, threw for more than 20,000 yards.

"I had a decent career up there, and, I've been blessed because my of my next career, which is coaching," said Bell. "As a player, I don't know if you really learn the game as you do when you're standing on the sideline, especially at the quarterback position. So, all those years when I wasn't the starter, and, didn't get to play that much, I tried to use that time to become a better coach."

The Gator football team was practicing at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Thursday, and, Bell, as well as all of the H.S. coaches who attended the clinic, had a chance to see how UF Head Coach Ron Zook and his coaching staff ran things.

"It's always tough to follow a guy (Spurrier) who, I thought, was someone who got perfection out of his team. To follow that," Bell said, "is tough. But, I think he's done a great job of recruiting. I think he's come in here and he's battled…losing some games…people getting on him…but, he's showed leadership. You've got to give him that, in that, he kept the team together. And, he's kept them battling. Now, going into his third year, he's got to step-up. The team's got to step-up. They're getting away from the Spurrier Era…and, it's really Coach Zook's time to show what he can do as a head coach."

Of course, one of the key cogs in UF's offensive arsenal these days is sophomore QB Chris Leak. Bell had a chance to see Leak practice on Thursday. "I think he's great. Not only is he talented athletically, but, also mentally. You can tell that he wants to be good. If he was just an athletic kid, he wouldn't impress me," said Bell. "Mentally, he gets into the game. He really studies it. He understands what it takes to be a winning quarterback…to not make mistakes. I think he's going to get better every year, because that's what he wants. The mental part of the game is just as important as making throws on the field." So, when the Bell tolls, make sure you listen!

As a football fan, and, as a reporter, I was fortunate to see Bell play for the Gators when I was a student in Gainesville back in 1985, ‘86, and '87. I can still remember when Bell led the Gators over Auburn in 1985 to propel Florida into the #1 spot in the Associated Press College Football Poll for the first time in school history. Bell was also my neighbor when I was a student, when I lived across from the Stephen C. O'Connell center. (He's certainly one of ‘my' top-3 all-time favorite Gator QB's, with Shane Matthews and Herbert Perry also in that mix).

Kerwin Bell Trivia Question: What team drafted Bell as the 180th selection in the 7th round of the 1988 NFL Draft? Hint: The starting QB for this team went on to set most of the NFL's all-time records at that position.


Answer to Thursday's trivia question: Current Florida Congresswoman, and, former Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, is the grand-daughter of Ben Hill Griffin, which the Gator football stadium is named after.

Fightin Gators Top Stories