Coastal Carolina’s coaches know they won’t have to provide any motivation to Shadell Bell going into the team’s season-opening game at South Carolina on Saturday.
A dislike for the Gamecocks is already ingrained in Bell.
Coastal’s starting tight end is a transfer from Clemson, and the bitter in-state rivalry between the state’s two largest colleges is well documented.
“I won’t say I hate them, but it’s just a dislike,” Bell said. “Coming from Clemson then coming here and learning the history about Coastal and Carolina being together back in the day, learning that and the feeling around here, people around here dislike them as well. That’s one rivalry that has grown on me.”
Bell is expected to bring life to a fruitless position for the Chants, particularly in the passing game, over the past two years. Last season, CCU tight ends caught just five passes for 49 yards.
“He’s done a great job for us and he’s going to have a big role in our offense,” said CCU offensive coordinator Jamey Chadwell. “I think you’ll see him as a very athletic tight end who can stretch the field.”
Chadwell said this year he plans to use more offensive sets featuring two tight ends, so the position should be more prominent.
“We expect that [production] to go up,” Chadwell said. “How much it will go up I don’t know. The defense dictates where you throw the ball sometimes, but we think we’ve got some guys who can make some plays and do some things for us.”
Bell graduated in May following seven semesters at Clemson with a degree in sports management and is pursuing his master’s degree in sports management at Coastal, where he still has two years of football eligibility remaining. “This is where I’ll be,” Bell said.
He signed with the Tigers as a wide receiver out of Columbia High in Decatur, Ga., but moved to tight end before his sophomore year in 2016, when he was redshirted.
Bell played sparingly at Clemson, logging 61 snaps in 12 games, with his lone catch for 8 yards coming against Kent State in last year’s season opener.
He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, so he’s an undersized tight end with pass-catching skills who will likely be at a weight disadvantage in the run game.
“We’d love for him to be a little stronger and some of those things … but he throws his body in there, he doesn’t care to throw his body around, and as he continues to learn what we’re doing I think you’ll see him improve in that,” Chadwell said. “We’ve asked him to do a lot, and he’s done a good job in fall camp.”
His willingness in the trenches will help.
“I’ve always been the receiver that wanted to block. I’ve always been the receiver that didn’t mind getting dirty,” Bell said. “So it’s just bringing along that and learning the technique and the footwork.”
Coastal is starting over at the tight end position. Socastee High grad Maxwell Kjosa had four receptions for 41 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore last year, and Laquay Brown had one catch for eight yards last season. Brown graduated, and Kjosa is no longer at Coastal, according to Chadwell.
The Coastal coaching staff became aware Bell was leaving Clemson as a graduate so they informed him of their situation at tight end and brought him in for a visit early this year. He joined the team after his Clemson graduation in May and is immediately eligible to play as a grad student.
“I didn’t want to stay Power 5 [conferences] because I wanted to go somewhere that was a good opportunity,” Bell said. “You have somebody here that’s going from the FCS level to the FBS level, so it’s a golden opportunity to come in and play right away and solidify a spot. That was a real reason for transferring from Clemson.”
There are five other tight ends on the roster, but one is a redshirt freshman and the other four are true freshmen. “Being a redshirt junior I’ll bring in that leadership and making sure those guys are ready whenever we need them,” Bell said.
He has chosen his housing arrangement well, as Bell is roommates with starting quarterback Kilton Anderson. “We have a connection already out there on the practice field to where we get the tight end involved,” Bell said.
Though he didn’t see the field much in games, Bell believes he improved in practices at Clemson and was always prepared to play. “As far as the lack of playing time, I didn’t let it faze me,” Bell said. “I always stayed humble, made sure I was doing good in practice, just putting my best foot forward whether it was scout team or running with the [first or second team], whatever was needed that week.”
Clemson reached the college football playoff in each of Bell’s three years in Death Valley, and he has six rings from his time at the school. He has three for ACC championships, two for bowl game wins and the 2016 national championship ring.
“Not too many get one so I’m blessed to have six of them,” Bell said. “Being on a national championship team, it brought experience for now. I can talk about it here with people now, have them look at a vision that’s higher than just the Sun Belt, go to a bowl game, it’s higher than just South Carolina.
“It was amazing. It was a blessing. A dream come true. Every child wants to grow up and be in a national championship. You play the game to win national championships, you play the game to go to the NFL, stuff like that. That experience was great. It was a blessing. I’m glad I was a part of it. I don’t regret anything from that.”
Leaving Tigers coach Dabo Swinney’s program and joining Coastal coach Joe Moglia’s program, Bell has been led by two unique coaches in college football.
“Both coaches are great,” Bell said. “Coach Moglia has been in the real world. Everything he applies has been in the business world. He preaches the comeback mindset. That’s something you have to attack every day. And coach Swinney is the same, just all in, making sure you’re all in with grades and academics and everything. It’s different wording, but the philosophy is about the same.”
Bell has enjoyed his first few months in Conway. “It’s been a blast,” Bell said. “The team has embraced me, the coaches have embraced me. They’ve pushed me hard. I love it here.”