Wide receiver became a priority for Michigan later in the 2018 recruiting class. The Wolverines extended new offers at the position late in the fall and into winter, with several highly-regarded national names on the board.
So when an offer and eventual commitment came through from Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill’s Ronnie Bell, Wolverine fans wondered about this relatively unknown name.
Bell had been committed to Missouri State for basketball, had no scholarship offers for football, but had posted a senior season in which he caught 89 passes for 1,605 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had 2,347 all-purpose yards, good enough to make him the winner of the prestigious Simone Award as the best player in the states of Kansas and Missouri.
While he seemed new to the radar, and the basketball commitment may have insinuated that he may have picked up football later, that was not the case. Bell’s father played college football, coached wide receivers at the college level (Missouri Western) and Ronnie had played varsity football since his freshman year. Simply put, he was falling through the cracks until Michigan unearthed him.
“These guys missed here, it is what it is,” Park Hill head coach Joshua Hood said. “Ronnie never attended a single camp or do the other things kids do to get recruited. Ronnie never did that. He played in games and practiced with us while other kids were going to this and that. He was declining invitations.
“Colleges were saying, 'Come here and run a 40,' and he would skip that to come to weights and football practice that afternoon. He didn't get out on the radar, he wasn't chasing them down, and some schools would come in and see the film and were ready to bite, but I think they were waiting for someone to bite first, and then it took off when football season started and he was a freak since Week 1. We all saw it, we knew it, but I think the schools just missed.”
Once Michigan found his film and evaluated him, the Wolverines moved quickly, wanting to get Bell in the class before more schools had an opportunity to find out what they were missing. Jim Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton made contact with Hood as Bell was signed for basketball and was unable to be contacted directly. Missouri State allowed Bell out of his commitment to them, and he was free to pursue football.
After word of Michigan’s offer spread, Penn State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Kansas State and more showed interest.
“Ronnie didn't want to talk to them,” Hood said. “He said Michigan was the first place, it was a dream, love at first sight, so that was where it ended. But the staff did a good job following the rules, getting in touch with our staff to see if pursuing football was something he was interested in, and gave us a chance to come back to them once he said it was and they got in, offered, and it's a great thing.”
Bell visited Michigan. Then, in this age of big announcements and rows of hats, he made no flashy public disclosure. It was not until fans and media noticed his Twitter bio read “Michigan commit” that the news was out that he would be a Wolverine.
Not many kids do that. Not many kids skip college summer camps where they may get offers to lift and practice with their high school team. Ronnie Bell is not most kids.
“He's a competitor,” Hood said. “Well, the first thing you'll see is that the athleticism is insane, it's unbelievable. It's up there with a five-star recruit, his athleticism and what he's able to do, and then the competitiveness – his willingness to throw his body at anything. The other thing that is important with him is, he's so smart. His dad was a college wide receivers coach. I remember he spent a lot of time in college film rooms and he was out there on the field for college practices, so he's very smart.”
It was common to see Bell in-between series with an iPad talking to his teammates and his quarterback about the defenses they were seeing and what would be open. It was also common to see him with his high school coaches on the weekend.
“He came to our Sunday coaches meetings,” Hood said. “He came to every single one of them. We would gather on Sundays, go over the offensive and defensive game plan together, and he was at every one of them, ate food, watched through the gameplan and knew everything that was going on.
“I feel he will have zero problem making an adjustment to that kind of level. You see some wide receivers that are 'give me the ball,' and he'll take the football 20 times, but he would also come to the sidelines and say, 'Look, they're triple teaming me, so I'll take them away, let's run the ball and get this win.'”
Bell has gone from mid-major basketball commitment to, in about eight months, playing in front of more than 100,000 people.
“His heart was always in football. He got the offer in basketball and took that opportunity with Missouri State, but he always said, if you hear something (for football), let me know,” Hood said.
Hood did hear something, and Michigan fans should be excited that he did.
All-star game practice notes
Michigan has several commitments playing in Thursday’s Under Armour All-America Game and Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Through two practices at the Army Bowl, Michigan commits Aidan Hutchinson and Cameron McGrone have been noted as having good moments by 247Sports. McGrone showed his athleticism by breaking up passes during 7-on-7.
Over at Under Armour, cornerback Myles Sims has had good success in one-on-one pass coverage drills.
Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.