FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Quinton Bell’s road to the NFL wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it.
The Long Beach, Calif., native was a late bloomer when it came to competing on the gridiron. Football wasn’t always Bell’s first choice, with track at the forefront. He began playing football during his sophomore year at Long Beach Poly, one of the top high school football programs in the country.
He later transferred to Costa Mesa High School during his freshman year, where things began to take shape for him. Former Los Angeles Raiders running back Nick Bell, Quinton’s uncle, was instrumental in getting him to play at Costa Mesa High, where he served as a volunteer assistant coach in 2011. But Bell didn’t get noticed until his last year.
“I had a crazy experience in high school,” Bell told me.
During his senior campaign, he suffered a hip flexor injury during a preseason game and a collapsed lung in his second game on the field, limiting exposure for schools to see him in action.
After fully recovering from each of these setbacks, finishing the season and graduating from Costa Mesa High, Bell went to Riverside City College (California), where he did not play football but only ran track. Despite not receiving any offers from four-year programs, Bell never gave up on football.
“I had some people push my film all year, trying to see if I could still get a football offer, and Prairie View invited me to visit,” Bell said. “I still wanted to play football, but I also wanted to run and Prairie View was one of the few schools that would let me run and play football.”
Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college and university, was the only school to offer Bell.
“I was like ‘you know what, Imma take it,’ you know what I’m saying?” Bell said. “I want to ride and I can also run, so I jumped at the chance.”
Bell entered Prairie View as a wide receiver and played his first three seasons at that position. He said he didn’t have the best three years as a wide receiver. At the start of his senior season, Bell’s defensive line coach and defensive coordinator approached him with an opportunity to play defensive end.
“At first, it sounded crazy to me,” Bell said. “Three years as a wide receiver and just playing defensive end in general didn’t even seem like an option. But the more people talked to me about NFL potential, I said, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose.’ I didn’t want to look back without trying – you know, and to this day, it’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”
In his lone season at defensive end, Bell racked up 46 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and an all-conference selection. The transition from offense to defense was obviously divine intervention for Bell.
That move actually led to an NFL opportunity. In the 2019 NFL Draft, Bell was selected 230th overall in the seventh round by the Las Vegas Raiders, the same team his uncle Nick Bell played for from 1991-1993. While Bell’s tenure with the Raiders didn’t last long, being drafted by the same team as your uncle is, again, divine intervention. After being released by the Raiders in 2019, Bell signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad.
After being waived by the Buccaneers in October 2020, he was re-signed to the practice squad just two days later. That same season, Bell earned a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers. Playing alongside veterans like Devin White and Tom Brady helped Bell learn a lot about the NFL early on.
“It was definitely a veteran team,” Bell said. “A lot of vets there that I learned a lot from. It was a great experience for me early in my career, being able to work with those types of vets that have been in the league for double-digit years. You see how they work. You can see what they do with his body. He learns the terminology of the game, so I’m very grateful for this experience. This was the best experience of my life.”
After that season with the Buccaneers, Bell was signed to the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad in September 2021 before signing a reserve/future contract in January 2022. With training camp underway, the players they will have the opportunity to earn their place. For Bell, earning a roster spot, proving to his coaches that he can help this franchise win and making plays are his goals heading into the preseason, where he can prove what he’s capable of.
It’s not how you start but how you finish, and Bell continues to show that. As his NFL journey continues, it’s been important for him to show players that you can make it anywhere, as long as you put in the work.
“Athletes are everywhere,” Bell said. “They’re not just at these bigger schools. You can find tough guys anywhere you go, and so I’m just trying to keep working and prove it.”