Malcolm Bells leadership lessons

NC Central senior had to learn what it took to be a college quarterback

Photo courtesy NCCU Athletics

It was December 2013. Malcolm Bell had just finished his redshirt freshman season at NC Central, and his future was bright.Bell saw time in eight games at quarterback, starting two of them, including a 174-yard performance against Savannah State.Jordan Reid, Central’s starting quarterback, had just finished his senior year, and the job was Bell’s to lose.Bell saw himself as a dual-threat quarterback, possessing the ability to do more damage to defense by scrambling than by staying in the pocket and throwing.”It’s always been an ability that I’ve had, since I was younger,” Bell recalled. “Just making people miss in the open field. I played soccer growing up, which gave me the footwork. I also played running back in little league and wide receiver. So I worked toward doing that in college.”That’s when Jerry Mack got hired as the new coach for the Eagles, and everything changed for Bell.”When we came, in he was [going to be] a redshirt sophomore,” Mack recalled. “Although he’d spent time in college, he hadn’t spent time with the way we did things.”Mack saw a quarterback that struggled with accuracy, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and completing fewer than half of his passes. He saw a talented player who relied too much on his athletic ability, rather than putting in the time to prepare for games.”It goes back to work ethic,” Mack said. “We talk to any recruit that comes in about this being a blue collar organization. Malcolm needed to understand that, in order to get on the field, in order to play for this regime, he was going to have to increase his study habits. Whatever he had done in the past, it was not going to be acceptable.”To emphasize that, Mack brought in a junior college transfer—Quinn Billerman, who had played at Raleigh’s Ravenscroft High before going to New Mexico Military Academy. The newcomer went through spring practice and the preseason, after which Mack named him the starter.”It was a wake-up call when he first got here,” Bell said. “Whenever a new coaching staff brings in someone else, you know you’re really going have to work hard to overcome this adversity.”Rather than sulk, Bell noticed why Billerman got the job over him.”Quinn was a great mental guy,” he said. “He was great watching film and breaking down defenses. That’s why he’s part of the coaching staff now. I just had to overcome that and go watch film, see what the coach thought about different plays, know why they called plays at certain times.”There was no question in Mack’s mind that his decision on his starting quarterback was a temporary one, but he didn’t tell Bell.”We always knew,” Mack said. “That was never the question. [Bell] saw a young man and probably felt like he had just as much ability, if not more, than the guy playing in front of him. Over the course of time, he stepped up and really improved as a student of the game. That’s what you want guys to do. You want guys to be hungry. That’s what our whole program is built on.”It took all of three games for Bell to get the starting job. He stepped in for a struggling Billerman during the second quarter of the 2014 game against Charlotte. Bell calls that game the best memory of his NC Central career.”It was a big turning point in getting self-confidence,” he said. “Ever since then, I’ve been the starter.””We made the transition,” Mack said. “The third game, we were able to put Malcolm in, and we pretty much never looked back.”Two years later, Bell has led the Eagles to three straight MEAC titles, and he will conclude his college career in the Celebration Bowl at the Georgia Dome. He will leave in second place on the school’s career passing yards and total offense lists.”I never thought about the record books,” he said. “I just thought about championships and making sure my team was winning.””Malcolm has done a really good job of managing our team and our program,” Mack said. “He has stepped up to the plate and made sure that when he touches the field, those other 10 bodies out there know that he’s in charge. He’s a guy who can take over a game. When we need a spark, he provides a spark.”