By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Old folks ask it a lot of Bryson Bell.
Can he be as good as his uncle?
The Muskogee High junior just shrugs.
“I always wanted to be as good as him since I started playing in the third grade,” he said.
His uncle has a legendary status that no one else can claim over the past 27 years.
Glenn Bell was the standout running back on the 1986 state champion, Muskogee’s last in football, and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame last fall.
His nephew’s success will not follow exactly in those footsteps. Bryson’s expected to be a major contributor at both wide receiver and in the defensive backfield when the season opens at Sand Springs in late August.
“We talk a lot. He lives in Las Vegas so we talk a lot by phone and our family has a lot of reunions and stuff and we see each other there. But we really don’t talk much about his playing days,” Bryson said. “Those that do are the ones who have seen him play.
“From what we have talked about, I know it was totally different in terms of the competition, stuff like that. But the main thing was he won a state title and I’d definitely like to get one of those.”
Bryson started as a wideout a year ago and was second behind Anthony King in total receptions (36) for 298 yards. King had 427 yards on 43 catches.
He’s not the ideal size for a receiver (5-foot-5, 165 pounds), but Roughers head coach Josh Blankenship sees more polish so far this spring in Bryson and he makes up for that size with his toughness.
“When we got him back from baseball for spring drills he just picked up where he left off. His body’s matured a little bit and he’s figured out he can be pretty physical to the point that the defensive coaches picked up on that too and so Bryson spent the whole (University of Tulsa) camp going both ways,” Blankenship said.
He wound up the team’s camp MVP.
“If we were starting the season tomorrow, I would say he’d start on both sides and get rested both ways,” Blankenship said. “We’re a little more fortunate with as many guys who played last year, especially at receiver, that have a better feel for what they’re doing. That’s going to enable us to mix and match a little more.”
Receivers coach Brian Hobbs said Bryson has a solid grasp of the fundamentals in playing receiver.
“I’ve always seen him as explosive off the ball but what I started noticing at TU in a lot of single coverages, I couldn’t recall a single time he got jammed up or beat off the ball,” Hobbs said. “Maybe a couple of dropped balls or bad throws but his football instincts were shining through.
“He knows every position. We ask our slot receivers to be very physical, whether blocking or just being physical to create separation. He doesn’t miss blocks. Now that he’s playing both ways, he doesn’t like coming out.”
Those instincts carry over to the defensive side where his playing time has been more limited.
“Coming out of breaks I watch the receiver’s hips and can pretty much tell what he’s going to do, being that I was a receiver myself,” Bryson said. “I’m just kind of getting used to it on defense. On offense, I’m fine. Last year I was just learning plays. I know them now.”
While Glenn Bell is the family’s shining star on the football field, Bryson’s father, Tyrone Bell, preferred track — the 1991 MHS graduate was a part of a state-qualifying 3,200-meter relay and also ran the 800. Glenn Bell, who now lives in Las Vegas, ran for 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns in his senior season and wrapped up his high school career with 5,200 yards. Muskogee beat Tulsa Washington 14-12 in the 1986 title game and he earned Oklahoma Coaches All-State and Bally’s All-America honors and was chosen for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Despite the distance away from his native home, Glenn has managed to attend a few of his games and has impressed on his nephew what it takes to be great.
“I’ve told him several times, athletic achievement goes hand in hand with school and staying focused on your grades,” Glenn said. “It’s a 100 percent approach to discipline in the classroom and on the field.
“Another thing I tell him is I don’t want him to be as good as me. I want him to be better than me.”
Blankenship said that Terrel Dean, or Buchanan as he was listed as the second-leading rusher at Union a year ago, said in a text late this week that he was “rumored” to be back at Union. “I haven’t seen him since (TU) camp,” Blankenship said. The team was in the process of getting a hardship wavier from the OSSAA to make Dean eligible. His mom’s side of the family goes by Dean. That would likely shift one of the defensive players with running back experience, Sammy Richardson or Mackenzie McCall, back to some responsibility with Tyriq Beasley in the MHS backfield...
A team camp at Indian Bowl wrapped this week. That combined with the TU camp has had Blankenship impressed. “We’ve had some moments where things happened and the kids would look at each other like ‘hey, we’re going to be all right and I’m like to them, ‘I told you so.’ Feels less like it’s less chipping away and baby steps we’re doing things than real progress. We’re not naive. We know we’ve still got the same schedule ahead of us, but we’re hopeful the progress we’ve seen continues to pan out.”