Joique Bell returned to his alma mater Wednesday night, practicing with the Detroit Lions on the same field where he led NCAA Division II in rushing during his senior year in 2009.
The Lions took their third practice of training camp on the road to Adams Fields on Wayne State University’s campus.
The night got off to a shaky start when a rainstorm hit just as Bell was holding a news conference on the field before the practice.
Minutes later, however, a double rainbow could be seen in the distance as the sun broke through the clouds.
It was Mother Nature doing her best to describe Bell’s career.
Undrafted from a small college, released by four NFL teams, Bell finally proved he deserves to be in the league and is entering his third season with the Lions.
"He’s got a lot to share and teach young people that have come up the way in which he did," coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think he’s a great inspiration."
Bell, a native of Benton Harbor, Mich., refused to listen to anyone who questioned whether he could play in the NFL.
"A lot of people counted me out, but one thing you can never do in this league is lose confidence in yourself," he said. "That’s one thing I never lost and it worked out for me. God had a plan for me and now I’m back home."
It was a much-appreciated homecoming for Bell, who finished his Wayne State career with 8,055 all-purpose yards and 96 touchdowns in 44 games.
On his way to the field, he stopped to hug and take a photo with a police officer.
He loves Wayne State and they clearly love him.
"It means a lot, it’s where I come from," Bell, who worked security part-time for the Lions when he was a freshman in college, said of his return. "They gave me my shot. How many players can say they practiced at their college with their professional football team?
"It’s an honor. I’m privileged, I’m blessed. What more can I say?"
Bell (5-foot-11, 229 pounds) had 650 yards rushing last year and caught 53 passes for 547 yards while scoring eight touchdowns.
He and Reggie Bush become the first teammates in NFL history to both have more than 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
Bell said his favorite memory of playing on the Wayne State field came during his senior year when the Warriors rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit and defeated Ashland University in the final seconds on his sixth touchdown of the game.
Bell, the Division II Player of the Year in 2009, took the microphone Wednesday while standing on that same field and tried to pump up his fans just as his teammates were coming out to join him.
"I promise you, I promise, I promise you, we’re going to bring the pride, dedication, the commitment every single Sunday," Bell vowed to the cheering fans.
God had a plan for me and now I’m back home.
Lions RB Joique Bell
Bell is hoping the Lions, coming off 7-9 and 4-12 seasons, can enjoy the same type of turnaround that he experienced with Wayne State’s program.
A year before Bell arrived on campus, Wayne State won one game. Two years after he left, the Warriors went to the Division II championship game.
Part of the reason he ended up at Wayne State was because he had played quarterback as a senior in high school instead of running back. That led some colleges to recruit him primarily as a safety, but Bell wanted to play running back.
Wayne State coach Paul Winters gave him that opportunity and it couldn’t have worked out better for both sides.
"He was Paul’s recruit who really turned the program around," said Jeff Weiss, an associate athletic director at the school. "Because of him we were able to get (other quality recruits). They said, ‘If they’ve got this guy, that’s the place I want to go to.’"
Some players forget where they came from, but not Bell.
"I’m proud of my alma mater," he said. "If you have talent, you have talent. A lot of people get the misconception that D-II doesn’t have too many great players, but we really do.
"I’m just glad I could be on the forefront of it and be representative of Division-II football."
He made them proud then and he’s making them even more proud now.