LINCOLN — Greg Bell has made a football career of slipping through small spaces. That’s how much of his high school highlight film begins and why his Arizona Western teammates nicknamed him “The Eel.”
But standing against the wall in a Hawks Center hallway surrounded by reporters Tuesday morning, not even the former junior college All-America running back could find daylight.
“It’s way different than juco,” Bell said with a smile. “A lot of people, media and stuff like that. There’s no media in juco.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound San Diego native is adjusting to many new things at Nebraska this spring. The cold weather. Playing in a fast-tempo offense. New teammates. Even dealing with back spasms — something he said he’d never experienced — that kept him out of Tuesday’s practice.
Expectations are higher for Bell, too. Some of that is beyond his control, like Rivals rating him the No. 1 juco back in the Class of 2018 — 247Sports pegged him No. 4. Some of it he has helped stoke, like posting social media videos of running vertical jumps onto mats nearly as tall as him.
Like most junior college imports, he’s not here to provide depth. There’s a sense of urgency to learn the playbook, to make an impact before his time is up.
“You gotta come in and do your job right now,” Bell said, “because you only have two years to play.”
Early returns from coaches and teammates indicate Nebraska’s first juco running back since Kenny Wilson in 2006 is off to a good start. Coach Scott Frost offered unsolicited praise of Bell last week as a Husker who was learning quickly. Senior back Devine Ozigbo called the newcomer “fluid” and predicted he would be a playmaker.
“He can run, and he’s very smooth,” running backs coach Ryan Held said of Bell. “He’s got really good feet, so he can glide and make it look really easy. It’s very natural to him. He’s got really good hands.
“I think when he continues to get better, he can be a dude for us. I really believe that.”
Bell — who committed to San Diego State out of high school but didn’t qualify academically — said he’s never been part of a losing football team. As a high school senior in 2015 he led Bonita Vista to the first section title in its 49-year history by running for 2,632 yards and 33 touchdowns. He went 20-2 in two seasons at Arizona Western, churning out 1,217 yards and 11 scores in 10 games last year, adding 15 catches for 201 yards.
One of the players to receive a scholarship offer during Frost’s first 24 hours at Nebraska, Bell said he can already see why this new offense was so successful at Central Florida. He has always liked stretch plays and inside zones the best because he would get the ball quickly and create yardage. Seemingly every play sets up someone in space to make a move and go.
“My approach is just coming in and working hard, putting my head down and just working hard,” Bell said. “Listening, just paying attention to everything and just working hard.”
Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick told The World-Herald in December that Bell’s versatility is what made him one of the best juco running backs available.
“He’s going to be an asset for Nebraska, I guarantee that,” Minnick said. “He ran inside the tackles. He also gets on the edge and can do some stuff out in space. And the great thing about Greg is he can track the ball, is a great receiver out of the backfield. He’s an all-around athlete who can get it done.”
Bell also knows he is far from a finished product. He points to pass blocking as something he wants to tighten up, starting with better discipline on picking up blitzes. Being a more physical runner — to the point where he is “breaking the linebacker’s will” — is another goal.
But Bell is also clear he thinks he can make a difference now. It’s something he talks about often with roommates Mike Williams and Deontai Williams, both juco transfers like him.
“I want to get the starting spot,” Bell said. “I’m trying to start, help this team win games.”