Malcolm Bell waited almost two weeks for a phone call that never came. The record-setting quarterback from North Carolina Central did all he could to impress NFL scouts.
His numbers at N.C. Central - touchdowns, passing yards, total offense - are all top three in Eagles’ history. As a starting quarterback Bell went 24-10 and won three consecutive MEAC championships, leading N.C. Central to its first outright crown and bowl appearance in 2016.
He played in a postseason All-Star game, won MVP and had not one, but two Pro Days. He threw for scouts at the University of Richmond and at N.C. Central. A few weeks later he had another private session with multiple NFL scouts in the building. He made all the throws and proved he was more than just a dual-threat signal caller, taking snaps under center to show that he could.
With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League owning his rights, Bell took a risk. When the CFL team sent a contract his way before the NFL Draft, Bell, a native of Richmond, Virginia, told them thanks, but no thanks. He thought the NFL would come calling, either during the draft or with a camp invite a few days after. Didn’t happen.
So Bell, who admitted he was frustrated when he didn’t get a chance to prove himself in an NFL camp, wondered if he had thrown away his one guarantee to play professional football. Luckily for him, he gets a second chance to make a first impression.
The Blue Bombers gave Bell a call on Monday, offering him a contract and an invite to their rookie minicamp, which begins next week in Canada. Winnipeg plays in the West Division of the CFL, finishing 11-6 in 2016. The Blue Bombers signed two quarterbacks on Monday, which means Bell will head into camp and battle for the final spot with former New Mexico State quarterback Austin Apodaca. Not that a little competition bothers Bell. He’s just happy Winnipeg didn’t forget about him.
“It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder,” Bell said. “Just watching the draft and going through all the NFL stuff and not being picked up in free agency, things were a little stressful on this end. I always knew I could go back and see if Winnipeg still wanted me. They gave me the A-OK to send the contract. We’re just really excited.”
Bell passed for 6,340 yards during his career in Durham and finished with 7,844 yards of total offense, both second in school history. Even though he accounted for 62 touchdowns in his career, his stature (5-11) and coming from an Historically Black College at the FBS level scared off NFL teams. Bell was in talks with the Seahawks, who know a thing about 5-11 quarterbacks (Russell Wilson), and the Redskins, who hold their preseason camp in Bell’s hometown.
But when he didn’t hear back from either team during, or after, the draft, it was back to plan B, which was really plan A dating back to Bell’s Pro Day in Durham. Another shot with the Blue Bombers wasn’t promised, but Bell’s agent remained in talks with the team and all was forgiven. Bell will report to Canada on Monday to begin his professional career, something he feels like the coaching staff at N.C. Central groomed him for from day one.
“They did a lot,” Bell said of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach T.C. Taylor and head coach Jerry Mack. “From the time they first got there in 2014, I wasn’t the starter and that pushed me to work. They just put me in different situations that weren’t college level things. They made me a professional before going off to play professional football.”
Bell said he started watching CFL games going into his senior season, figuring that’s where his career was headed after setting records at N.C. Central. In the CFL the field is wider and the throws are more about timing. Bell, who rushed for 20 touchdowns during his career, likes the fact the game is more wide open up north and he’ll more than likely have many carries.
“They don’t run as much, the game is in your hands,” Bell said. “It’s just a different game up there. You have to learn it and learn it quick or they will make their decisions and go the other way.”
Bell has already started studying tape of another former Triangle quarterback, former North Carolina star Darian Durant. Like Bell, Durant, also 5-11, was considering too short for the NFL. He latched on to the CFL in 2006 and started 157 games, passing for 28, 507 and 149 touchdowns.
Ultimately, Bell wants to create his own legacy, like the one he left at N.C. Central.
“This is what I dreamed of,” Bell said. “I’m just going to take advantage and not let anything slip away.”