Most high school football players dream of making it to the National Football League. In 1997 at Kingsbury High, Marcus Bell was one of those dreamers.
Now, after successful careers at the University of Memphis and the NFL, Bell has not only made that dream a reality for himself, he’s helping others pursue the dream too – as the defensive line coach of the White Station High School Spartans.
“I felt like I could instill my work ethic into them at the high school level,” Bell said. “I will be in the best position to make better college football players and better men.”
After high school, Bell was a defensive lineman for the University of Memphis, playing in 42 games and starting in 20 games. His play earned him letters each year from 1997-2000, and in 2000, he was named to the All-Conference USA first team defense.
From there, Bell declared for the draft, going in the fourth round to the Arizona Cardinals, one of three Tiger defenders selected in the 2001 NFL Draft. Bell played seven seasons in the league — three years each with Arizona and Detroit before his final season with the New York Giants. During his career, he logged 165 tackles, three forced fumbles and six pass breakups in 86 games.
In 2008, Bell returned to the U of M as a member of then-Head Coach Mike Norvell’s staff, and wrapped up his bachelor’s degree in 2010. Bell experienced more success as a coach at Memphis than as a player. During his 10 years with the program, he watched the Tigers grow from on the brink to a team that played in the Cotton Bowl in 2019.
“My passion was to make a difference. I like going against the grain,” he said of that run. “When I got back, my vision was to make the team relevant in my own way. That was the driving force to make it better.”
The team indeed became relevant. In 2014, the Tigers went 10-3 en route to Memphis’ first conference title since 1971 and a victory in the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl. They won their last seven games that season.
Norvell moved on to Florida State after that season, and Bell returned to running the transportation company he started many years ago. But eventually, he wanted to get back into coaching. But where?
“I was watching the Penny Hardaway documentary (‘This Magic Moment’) again and it just said to me, ‘You know you have something to give. What are you waiting on?’ I talked to a couple of coaches and the choice came down to either Houston High or White Station.”
White Station seemed to have the most need, having won just two games last season. Bell became the defensive line coach.
The Spartans begin their season August 18, when they travel to play Christian Brothers High School. White Station plays in one of the toughest districts in the state of Tennessee with Bartlett, Whitehaven, Houston, Germantown and Collierville. Bell expects to take his team back to the basics and work with them from techniques and stances.
“It is not all about coach, coach and coach,” Bell said. “I have to get to know these kids in order to make a difference.”