LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Kenny Bell is the quintessential Nebraska receiver, which is to say he’s defined as much by his blocking as his catching.
Bell was recognized for the glory that comes with his position rather than the grunt work when he set the school record for career receptions in the Cornhuskers’ 42-24 win over Rutgers on Saturday. He’ll likely become the career leader in receiving yards when the No. 17 Huskers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) host Purdue this week.
In 48 games, he’s caught 167 passes, one more than Nate Swift did from 2005-08. His 2,473 career receiving yards are 6 behind 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers.
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The school’s receiving records are the lowest of any school in the Big Ten, largely because the Huskers have overwhelmingly favored the run most of their history. In the last 25 years, three Nebraska receivers have been drafted – two since 2011 – compared with 12 running backs.
But the Huskers’ rushing numbers over the years wouldn’t be nearly as prodigious if it weren’t for the downfield and perimeter work done by receivers such as Bell.
”Those dudes understand that for us to be a good team you have to run the ball well, and they really take pride in their blocking,” Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah said. ”I know in their room they have a chart with who has the most knockdowns. I think Kenny leads the team. He’s a pretty feisty guy. He likes to get after people.”
Bell threw key blocks on all three of Abdullah’s touchdown runs against Rutgers. He knocked down a pursuing defensive back to help clear the way for Abdullah’s 53-yarder, sealed off a defender in the middle of the field on his 48-yarder and engaged a cornerback just over the line of scrimmage as Abdullah went untouched on his 23-yard scoring run.
”I love blocking, and when you get to block for a guy like Ameer… Blocking for No. 8, I can definitely say is a highlight of my career,” Bell said.
The senior from Boulder, Colorado, caught six balls for 63 yards against Rutgers and has had at least one reception in 23 straight games and in 45 of the last 46.
Bell said he didn’t know until this week that he was closing in on the records. He set the receptions mark in the fourth quarter when Tommy Armstrong Jr. delivered a 13-yard pass to him on an out pattern.
”He’s done a great job the last four or five years he’s been here,” Armstrong said. ”I applaud him. We really weren’t looking at trying to break (records) this game or next game. We wanted to play our offense. Fortunately the ball went to him, and I’m glad for him.”
Bell became emotional in the locker room after the game as he thanked teammates for helping him set the record.
”It’s a great feeling, obviously, to be mentioned in the same breath as Nate Swift and Johnny Rodgers,” Bell said. ”Swifty is an unbelievable guy. I’ve gotten a chance to meet him quite a few times. And everybody loves Johnny Rodgers.
”As far as just the numbers, yeah, it’s cool. But I would much rather be remembered for the type of person I am, how I treat people, and the relationships I’ve made here at this university and the impact I’ve made with the community.”
Bell’s milestone was overshadowed because Abdullah, while rushing for 225 yards against the Scarlet Knights, set a school record with 341 all-purpose yards.
”Of course,” a smiling Bell said, waving his right arm in feigned rage, ”Ameer Abdullah has to break a school record the same day I did.”