Nick Bell Honored At Campus Memorial Service

The circumstances were sorrowful. Yet the purpose was abundantly clear by the title of Thursday night's service in Lee Hall: A Celebration of Life. The life, that is, of departed Bulldog Nick Bell. Because, as tight end Kendrick Cook told the assembly, "Nick would not have wanted us to cry, he'd want us to celebrate."

Mississippi State tried to do just that this evening. The memorial service was open to all the campus and college community and Bettersworth Auditorium was nearly filled with family, friends, and fans of Nick Bell and Bulldog football. The service was overseen by campus FCA chapter director Bill Buckley, with remarks from Coach Dan Mullen and wife Megan, as well as Bell teammates Cook and Charles Mitchell.

MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum and athletics director Scott Stricklin were joined by Commissioner Mike Slive and former State A.D. Larry Templeton to represent the Southeastern Conference.

"We've come together to honor the Lord, and Nick, who loved the Lord," said Buckley, before reading Psalm 116:15; ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones.' And this was a theme all would follow regarding the young man passing away at the age of 20 on Tuesday, a cancer victim.

Mullen, in his second season as Bulldog coach, called it the most difficult week he'd ever been through, and repeated to the audience the same advice given State players. "There is no right or wrong way to feel at this time," he said. "The strongest emotion is love, and that is what overwhelms you."

Mullen noted how this week he had gone to a book kept in his office, finding a apt reference to Isaiah 41:10 which instructs Christians not to fear or be anxious. "Because the Lord will help us pull through," was Mullen's paraphrase of the scriptural wisdom. The coach even found fitting the week's weather, noting how the last two days had been gray and dull.

"Today the clear sky and the sunshine came through, to celebrate Nick Bell's life."

Bell was among the players Mullen inherited when he took over State in December 2008. It did not take long for the new coach to notice something different about the Bessemer, Ala., native. Upon arrival Mullen instituted a grueling, even brutal physical regimen on the Bulldogs and many days the strain of such increased demands would show.

With a remarkable exception. Nothing seemed to break Bell down.

"To be positive in a leg press, positive in a mat drill in February, while running sprints in summer, in practice, is an amazing thing," Mullen said.

Cook was in the 2008 Mississippi State signing class with Bell. "I remember walking in the recruiting room and I saw this guy that looked like twice my size. A coach said I better get to know him!" And it turned out Cook and Bell would room together their early months on campus as redshirting freshmen. "But we were too much alike!" Cook said of why they agreed to at least lodge separately.

In all other ways though they were on the same page, and Cook commented how Bell's locker was directly opposite from his. "I told one of the coaches today that I looked over and I expected him to come out."

Junior safety Charles Mitchell later became a roommate, and recalled when they all lived in McKee Hall how Bell and fellow defensive end Sean Ferguson had frequent wrestling matches. "Ferg was smaller then and Nick used to have his way with him!" Mitchell related. In fact Bell got his way in other areas, such as when the group moved to another dormitory and Bell decided Mitchell should be his roommate and defensive end Shane McCardell move. The latter didn't wish to, "so one day Nick moved all his stuff out!"

Bell was competitive everywhere according to Mitchell. "One day in class we were having an exam, he leaned over and said ‘I bet I make higher than you on this test'." Mitchell would not report who did indeed win that contest, but…

"I have two older brothers," Mitchell said, "and I believe I was closer to Nick." That included Bell's final weeks when he cared more about friend's feelings than his own issues. "He held a lot back on his condition. He wasn't concerned about himself."

Mississippi State's TV Center had assembled a video from photos of Bell, many of his youth in Alabama, as well as campus activities and his fraternity experiences with Omega Psi Phi. Game clips from 2009 and '10 were also shown, right up to the last time Bell appeared at Scott Field. It was on the sideline for Homecoming, in jersey, sweats…and a cap to cover where he'd had late September surgery to remove a mass on his brain. Bell was to begin heavier chemotherapy treatment this week but did not get the chance.

Still, Mullen asked the audience to be as positive as Bell himself was. "If Nick has left us with an example, what could be better?" he asked. "Make sure that all of us live our dreams. Don't wait, go live your dreams." Mullen even dared suggest that Bell is even now preparing for his next game. "I don't know what time kickoff is but I'm sure he's been picked up for a team in Heaven."

"God had Nick here for a purpose," Cook said. "To show us that regardless of situations, God is in control." Cook paused to gather himself, then challenged the crowd directly. "Give Nick Bell a round of applause, because he deserves it!"

At which the Lee Hall auditorium echoed to applause for a life that was too short by mortal measure, but long enough to leave a mark.

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