More than 200 kids and about 35 volunteer coaches attended Lions running back Joique Bell's camp Tuesday. (Josh Katzenstein / Detroit News)
West Bloomfield — When the Lions lost their final home game in 2008 to fall to 0-15, Joique Bell was in the crowd at Ford Field.
“I’ll never forget looking in the stands and someone had a sign that said, ‘Buying a new car: $20,000. Buying a new house: $200,000. Lions go 0-16: Priceless,’” said Bell, who was a Wayne State football player at the time.
Bell is entering his third full season as a Lions running back, but unlike many of his teammates, the Benton Harbor native understands what it’s like to grow up a Detroit fan.
And because of his deep ties to the area, Bell has worked this summer to help youth in the community, both on and off the field. In addition to holding his fourth annual football camp in his hometown in May, Bell held another camp Tuesday at West Bloomfield High School.
“I have to,” Bell said of why he hosted a second camp. “I consider this my home now as well. My hometown is Benton Harbor, but my residency is in Detroit. And I’ve been here since 2005, so I’ve grown attached to the city.
“This is what you’re supposed to do for the city where you come from.”
More than 200 kids and about 35 volunteer coaches attended Bell’s camp Tuesday. After more than an hour outside, rain pushed the activities indoors.
Once the group went inside, Bell answered several questions from both kids and parents. He discussed the importance of teamwork in all facets of life and told the kids to write down their goals so they knew what they wanted to achieve. He also told one parent he never had to choose between football and school, noting that he graduated high school with a grade-point average above 3.0.
After sharing the story of his NFL journey, Bell told the kids to follow their dreams no matter what other people say. Before signing with the Lions at the end of the 2011 season, Bell had stints with four other teams, but after signing a three-year contract worth $9.3 million, he’s found a home in Detroit.
Bell called it a “dream come true” to be able to inspire local youth.
“When I go out there and play, it’s bigger than me,” Bell said. “It’s bigger than football. It’s about bringing positive feedback back to this community, back to this team, back to this organization. I grew up here in Michigan, so I know what it feels like to be through these trying times.”
In 2013, Bell had 650 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and 547 receiving yards while sharing the running back load with Reggie Bush. And no matter how good things were last year or may be in the future, Bell will continue to think about that sign he saw in December 2008.
“I randomly always think about that sign in my head,” he said. “Now that I’m here and I can make a difference, I always think about that sign when I’m working out or anything like that.”