Harbaugh, Wolverines have Ronnie Bell's back: He's 'tough as nails'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — In the aftermath of a difficult loss at Penn State, Michigan players vented and defended a teammate when asked their opinion of some of the nastiness that can brew among some fans who take to social media or message boards or email or radio to express their pointed displeasure.

In Michigan’s 28-21 loss at Penn State last Saturday, receiver Ronnie Bell dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone that would have tied the game (with the extra-point kick) with 2:01 left. It wasn’t a game-ending play — the defense failed to prevent the Nittany Lions from converting on 3rd and 3 on the next drive — but it enraged some.

Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell leads the Wolverines in catches and receiving yards.

Bell’s father, Aaron, shared on Facebook an email from someone saying he was a 2019 Michigan graduate who wrote that Ronnie Bell “should quit the team already … please do us all a favor and never play football again.”

In the Penn State game Bell had five catches for 82 yards, but was on the sideline crestfallen after dropping the pass as his teammates offered emotional support. He leads the team this season with 443 yards on 25 receptions. Bell had been a basketball commitment when he committed to play football at Michigan.

“We would take as many Ronnie Bells as we could possibly get on this team,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference. “How far he’s come, what he does for our team, the way he played in the game, he was one of our top performers, and he is, consistently game in and game out. Tough as nails. Mentally as tough as anybody we’ve got, physically the same.”

Defensive end Kwity Paye said Monday that the players learn to shut out the outside noise and listen only to their teammates and coaches.

“The people in this building are the only voices that matter,” Paye said. “ I could see it for myself, when I had first committed here, you guys all on social media and stuff, it wasn’t really a warm welcome, I would say. A lot of people said, ‘Who is this three-star bum from Rhode Island?’ My own fans. For me coming in, I was like, ‘All right, well, it’s kinda hard.’ I was put in the team’s group chats and immediately I felt like a family. The team consoled me, and it was like, ‘Yeah, don’t worry about the fans and stuff like that, we’re the ones that matter to you.’

“From that point on, I felt like I just took the team’s voice and I made it my own. For Ronnie, too, when Ronnie first came in here, nobody knew who Ronnie was until he started balling. Ups and downs fans love you, fans hate you, so for us, we just try and block all the noise. The people in the building are the only voices that we listen to. ..."

Defensive tackle Carlo Kemp, a co-captain, doesn’t have social media, but he knows how vicious the criticism can get.

“It’s just terrible what can go on on there and you know, it’s really said to see stuff like that,” Kemp said. “And especially for Ronnie, because you talk about a guy that’s a team guy, wears his emotions in his play and he goes out there and he’s working to get as hard as he can to get open on the last offensive play of the game and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. Everyone is going to look at that play and be like, ‘Ronnie!’. That’s not how the game works. Look at the season, look at the game, he’s out there and he’s blocking for his teammates, he’s helping people get open, he’s the guy that gets us going. He’s coming to the defense and he’s getting us motivated, and it’s not even if he’s saying something. It’s him high-fiving us, he’s like, ‘We got you, we’re good,’ and we’re like, ‘We got you, too.’"

Harbaugh’s point to his team is just to ignore.

“What was the youngster’s name? The guy who wrote the email,” Harbaugh said. “I’m sure (the fan) got drunk as heck Saturday night, was probably talking to his friend, took to email and wrote a bunch of stuff I’m sure the next day he was like, ‘Why the heck did I do that? I’m an idiot.”

Kemp said Bell will have no problem rebounding when Michigan plays Notre Dame Saturday night.

“It’s tough to see any of your teammates like that,” Kemp said of Bell’s emotional response on the sideline. “You always want everybody to be happy. You want that celebration. When you are so emotionally involved in everything in the game and you take everything in the week leading up to it, stuff like that happens, and you just don’t want to see a guy that’s down. You don’t want him to feel like the whole game was on him when there were 60 plays on defense and 100 plays on offense. There’s a lot that goes into a football game. I know how Ronnie’s going to respond.”


Twitter: @chengelis