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Nose to the grindstone, hands in the earth: How Browns S D'Anthony Bell worked his way to an NFL roster

Bears Browns Football
Posted at 10:40 PM, Aug 31, 2022

BEREA, Ohio — Making it into the NFL is a dream of many but the reality of far fewer. For Browns safety D'Anthony Bell, it was a dream that never left his sight, even when life got a little hard.

Bell grew up in Covington, Georgia with a passion for football.

"For me and my family, we always believed in me. I believed that I had a shot from the get-go," Bell said. "I believed in my talent and my preparation as a player."

Bell played wide receiver, running back and quarterback at a high level for Alcovy High School, but that's where his football journey ceased to be typical. Bell started small, enrolling at Albany State University, then moving on to Iowa Central Community College where he switched positions.

"I think it just happened. I went to Iowa Central and they were like 'We need a safety.' I was like 'I'm that guy, whatever you need, we can do it,'" Bell recalled. "I've always been that team player and tried to just help the team."

Bell certainly helped the team, appearing in 11 games and making 57 tackles, a sack, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 2016. Football was Bell's element and he was in it, no question.

But life had other plans for Bell at that time.

"I had family, money issues, couldn’t pay for school and at that time I was paying for school," Bell said. "We were like, ‘Maybe I can come home and try to make some money.’"

So from Iowa back home to Georgia he went, taking a year away from school—a year away from football—to get things in order.

"In my year off football I just stayed at home and worked with my dad. He was doing construction," Bell said. "I was taking out the rocks, the heavy rocks and carrying them. Just doing whatever he asked me to do for the most part."

While Bell worked with his dad doing physical labor, the love he had for football never lessened. His desire to return to school and return to the gridiron was never out of sight.

"For me it was always just money issues. I’m not from a place with money, so having to pay for school and taking out so many loans, it wasn’t something ideal I was trying to do," Bell said. "I was like, 'Maybe I could try to leave and try to get a scholarship at another school.' That was my main priority."

And that's just what he did. Earning a scholarship at Butler Community College, Bell was back doing what he loved—playing football and chasing his dreams of playing at the highest level.

At Butler, Bell really started to shine. In 2018, Bell notched 57 tackles with three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, helping his team take home the title in the Midwest Classic Bowl. In 2019, he continued his growth, starting all 15 games at safety with an impressive 77 tackles, 41 solo tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, nine pass breakups and four fumble recoveries.

"When I was at Butler I had UGA, LSU, I had a whole bunch of teams. But at that time, my grades weren’t that good, so I ended up going DII," Bell said.

Bell took the opportunity anyway, heading to the University of West Florida to wrap up his college football career—and hopefully make it to the next level, like he was sure he could. It was only a matter of time before he'd find out. After the NFL Draft was over, Bell found himself on the radar of an NFL team—the Cleveland Browns.

As the Browns began signing undrafted free agents, Bell was among the talent general manager Andrew Berry opted to bring in for a shot. Bell, heading up north for rookie minicamp and OTAs, didn't waste his.

"I think when I got out there, started competing and making plays. When I started making plays it was like, 'Oh, okay, I can really do this, I can actually do this,'" Bell explained. "So once I started making plays it was great."

The safety has indeed made plays. Whether it be the numerous interceptions or pass breakups he's recorded in practice sessions, or the impressive outings he's had in the preseason games, Bell made such a name for himself that he did something no one ever has—becoming the first UDFA to make the Browns 53-man roster under Berry.

"I was sitting at my locker and Andrew had called me. It was a blessing. I had been on the phone with my mom all night 'til about 1-2 a.m. We’ve been praying all night. God is amazing," Bell smiled. "I didn’t sleep too much and neither did my mom either. Both of us were on the verge, just praying and trying to hope for the best."

Bell's journey to the NFL was not an easy one, but it's one that he wouldn't change.

"I think it was a hard journey, for sure. But for me it just taught me the importance of football. It taught me the importance of the people that were in my corner and the people that believed in me. I think I had to go through that journey to learn that I had to go through college and I had to get those grades to be where I’m at," Bell said. "I think it made me a way better man than I was back then. If I was younger and had gotten the opportunity, I probably would have messed it up."

Now, with a spot on the roster and the opportunity to play at the highest level, Bell is ready to be an inspiration to others.

"I think I'm the first person from my high school to even make it to this level. So when I go back home I go to those schools and talk to those kids and let them know that even though your journey may be hard you can still end out on the good end if you keep on pushing, trusting yourself and believing," Bell said.

And he's not done working yet.

"Let’s keep going. Make it true. I made it here, but that’s not the end goal. To keep going and help this team get wins, let’s be part of the team and make plays," Bell said.

Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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