First of a three-part series profiling the top vote-getters for the 2011 Walter Payton Award.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
A 19-year-old isn't usually associated with a bucket list, but those around Indiana State's resurgent football program are delighted Shakir Bell is working on one with teammates.
"Our program is on the rise. We're always talking about our bucket list," the sophomore running back said. "We learn how to compete, we learn to win. Now we have to win championships."
Shakir Bell gained 1,670 yards and 14 touchdowns on 230 carries to be the FCS rushing leader during the regular season.
The Sycamores have checked off some of the list by following Bell up and down the field. The FCS' rushing leader in the regular season, he developed into a finalist for the 2011 Walter Payton Award, which is presented to the outstanding player in the division, presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
Bigger defensive players had a hard time catching the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Bell as he gained 1,670 yards and 14 touchdowns on 230 carries, a 151.8-yards-per- game average on a scintillating 7.3 yards per carry.
"Shakir had the best rushing season an Indiana State player's ever had," Indiana State head coach Trent Miles said. "It's a testament to the young man's ability, work ethic and the type of person he is. It also says a lot about those young men blocking up front and on the perimeter. It's easily a team effort."
The Sycamores had no choice but to rally together following Bell's arrival on campus in 2010. They entered his freshman season with losses in 60 of their prior 62 games.
But he helped jump-start the turnaround with three 100-yard games and 649 yards and two touchdowns on 95 carries as Indiana State went 6-5.
"When I saw the guys here, I saw the hunger in their eyes," Bell said. "I saw guys that weren't going to quit fighting - they were relentless. That's the goal that I have every time I get on the field with anything I do."
This year, Bell led a second straight winning season at 6-5. The Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year rushed for at least 200 yards in four wins and missed a fifth time against South Dakota State by one yard.
"I'm a powerful runner that's low to the ground," said Bell, whose rushed for 3,105 yards and scored 38 touchdowns as a high school senior in Indianapolis. "I'm fast. I'm not 40-time track-speed quick, but I'm more of an in-between- the-tackles, make-a-cut-and-go-type quick. And I like to hit guys. That's one of my main things. I like being physical. And whenever guys hit me, they feel it just as much as I feel it."
The Walter Payton and Eddie Robinson awards are marking their silver anniversaries this year. The Payton honors the FCS' outstanding player and the Robinson celebrates the national coach of the year. In addition to those two awards, the Buck Buchanan (FCS outstanding defensive player) and the Jerry Rice (FCS freshman of the year) awards will be announced at the FCS Awards Presentation on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas. All four awards are presented by The Sports Network and sponsored by Fathead.com.
Bell said he particularly enjoyed competing against MVFC co-champions North Dakota State and Northern Iowa while the Sycamores fell one win short of qualifying for the FCS playoffs.
The losses have given him motivation for the next goal on his bucket list.
"As an athlete, you always want the season to continue," he said. "I'm just thankful for the things that we did do and the accomplishments that we did make in our conference.
"We're still trying to get over the hump of winning the big games that are going to get us there. That's mainly the goal of this offseason."
Samuel G. Freedman's "Breaking The Line" vividly recreates the world of black college football in the civil rights era with a gripping chronicle of the 1967 season for coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State and Alonzo S. "Jake" Gaither at Florida A&M.