By Rick Assad
Chance Bell’s road to San Diego State from Burroughs High hasn’t exactly been easy.
No matter, the redshirt senior will return for a sixth season in the Aztecs’ backfield in 2022, because the 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back wants to go out with a bang.
“It’s pretty demanding, but it really has a huge payout. It’s a great culture here and a great atmosphere, obviously being in sunny San Diego,” Bell said. “It’s kind of been a rollercoaster with a lot of things going on.”
Bell went on: “There’s a lot of hard work that’s been put in and a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s definitely made me a better person,” he noted. “It made me accept buying in and just playing for that team aspect. With the chances I’ve had, I’ve been productive. Playing that role and just knowing your role and executing it to the best of your ability, it’s been a beautiful thing.”
Hard work combined with skill and determination have made Bell, who has rushed for 1,158 yards on 251 carries for 4.61 yards per rush with nine touchdowns over his career, has been an integral cog in the Aztecs’ success.
With the exception of 2020 when San Diego State played eight games and went 4-4 because of COVID-19, the Aztecs have been in three bowl games, including the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl which will be played tomorrow against the University of Texas San Antonio (12-1). The game will be televised on ESPN and will begin at 4:30 p.m.
Ranked No. 24, San Diego State has posted an impressive 11-2 record, reached No. 19 in the Associated Press poll this season and are 32-15 across the four seasons Bell has played.
The Aztecs won their first seven games of the campaign including victories at Arizona 38-14 and at home versus Utah 33-31 in triple overtime before losing to visiting Fresno State 30-20.
San Diego State’s only other setback was to Utah State 46-13 in the Mountain West Championship game.
Every team wants to cap off the year with a win, but Bell, who has accounted for 312 yards on 66 carries for a 4.72 average per rush, both second best on the squad, doesn’t want to make the bowl game against the Roadrunners too important.
“To be honest, it’s the same grind. We’ve been saying here all year, even the championship game of the season, treat it like any game,” said Bell, who ran for 4,525 yards on 605 rushes and a 7.47 average per carry and 59 touchdowns in three varsity seasons at Burroughs. “Never feel like the moment is too big. Just be us. Just be Aztecs. We’re having a great preparation so far. We’ve just got to keep going by the time we hit that field.”
Bell isn’t the top ball-carrier, that would be senior Greg Bell with 999 yards on 220 carries and eight touchdowns.
Bell is happy to be in the mix and contribute any way he can.
“As a competitor, it’s not something that you ever really accept. Every day we go out and we compete and we kind of expect to prove ourselves day in and day out,” he said. “That’s the dynamic that we have at this school, especially with the running back group. That competition has made me a better running back. Just competing with them every day and getting to know them. You become a family. The running back room is a family. I love all of them.”
This has been an incredible season for San Diego State. What made 2021 a reality?
“This is 100 percent just everybody buying in,” said Bell, who earned his bachelor’s degree and is in graduate school. “A lot of people from different backgrounds and different cultures. We all came together for the same goal. It’s the bigger cause, the bigger picture. We just really bought into the idea of playing together and being physical. That’s what being an Aztec warrior is all about. Being the most physical team on the field that day. That’s something that we preach, and we live every day.”
Football can be a classroom and it has been for Bell, who was a two-time All-CIF Southern Section pick.
“I learned how to be selfless, especially in a team aspect. I think that being selfless is not a trait you just pick up overnight,” he said. “I feel it’s something that’s learned and it’s practiced every single day. It teaches you a lot in terms of being something bigger than yourself.”
Like for so many, playing football professionally is a dream. It is for Bell.
“I definitely want to play at the next level. Taking it day by day. Right now I’m focusing on taking another year since I did play five years and another one for COVID year,” he said. “I think that would be the best decision for me. I think I could do a lot more with that sixth year.”
San Diego State is a little way from Burroughs, but only in terms of miles. Playing college football was also something Bell wanted to do.
“I was that guy who just always put in extra work. I had aspirations to play at the next level,” he said. “I didn’t get any offers until after my junior season. But when they started coming in, they started coming in pretty heavy. I think I ended up with about 15 scholarship offers from Division I programs.”
Longtime Burroughs football coach and current co-athletic director Keith Knoop saw Bell early.
“I coached Chance his sophomore and junior year and Mike Reily was his head coach, Chance’s senior year,” he explained. “Chance and his father walked into my office from a high school in Las Vegas. Chance looked impressive as a 10th grader. I asked for some film on him as he played junior varsity at his previous school. Wow! He was special. Chance ended up being our leading rusher that year and every year.”
Knoop continued: “The thing about Chance was he would do whatever I asked of him. He was very competitive and wanted the ball when it mattered most, yet he was humble,” he added. “He was a great leader who held his teammates to a higher standard. Chance was very mature for his years. He and Jesse Chamberlain [offensive lineman at San Jose State] were a great duo. We have had some tremendous running backs at Burroughs and Chance holds his place at the very top of the list.”
Reily isn’t surprised at what Bell has accomplished at the prep and collegiate level.
“Chance was a hard worker. He took pride in his craft, paid attention to the details, and had the desire to constantly improve,” he said. “He was a very determined athlete, but also seemed to have fun at the same time.”
Erick Hernandez was a standout wide receiver on those Burroughs teams and saw first-hand Bell’s determination on and off the field.
“Chance was successful at Burroughs and San Diego State because of his talent of course, but more so because of his work ethic and selfless character,” said Hernandez, who played football at the college level and is currently the tight ends and running backs coach at Eastern New Mexico University, a Division II school. “He really did put the time in to get better and it shows. I knew him as a sophomore in high school and to see how far he has come has been awesome. He took full advantage of his opportunities.”
Hernandez, who previously was the wide receivers coach at Burroughs, added: “As a teammate he was always supportive and always happy for others and that made others happy for him,” he said. “I have seen him become more of a team player in college. He is always excited for the team, and there is so much to be said for that. He has always been good to me and others around him and I’m so proud of what he has accomplished. I know he will do well and have a great attitude wherever life takes him.”
One more game awaits Bell and then a full slate of games next season.
After that, Bell hopes to join other San Diego State players such as Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning running back Marshall Faulk, Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe, named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1980, defensive end Fred Dryer, and defensive back Herman Edwards, who made their mark in the NFL.