Development of quarterback Braden Bell boosts Henrietta’s rise to power
Like many young footballers, Braden Bell has always dreamed of being the quarterback.
But growing up, he was relegated to the offensive line. Bell moved a little closer to a specialty position, moving to seventh-year linebacker at Henrietta.
Then, as he entered eighth grade, Bell randomly learned that he would move into the backfield rather than take his place in the front row. His new roster was behind the center, giving him the opportunity to make that childhood dream come true.
“It was something that I always wanted to play,” said Bell. “I always wanted to be the quarterback. I wasn’t sure I would ever have the opportunity until eighth grade.
But Bell’s path to becoming the starting quarterback for Henrietta University and recently leading the Bearcats to a three-game winning streak has still seen some twists and turns.
Bell played the rookie position on the Bearcats varsity team. But he moved on to receiver for his first season in college in second year.
Bell spent more time playing linebacker as a junior, but attempted 57 passes, completing just 45.6% for 319 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions.
Those aren’t the stats of a prolific passer, and Bell wasn’t on the radar to be one of the region’s best quarterbacks this season.
But the 6-2, 188-pound senior has removed any doubt about his ability to lead Henrietta’s offense.
In four games, Bell completed 55 of 98 passes for 881 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He ranks second in the region in passing yards and is tied for first in passing touchdowns. And it’s no coincidence that his emergence behind center coincided with Henrietta’s winning streak.
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“I think it has a lot to do with it,” Henrietta coach Michael Johnson said of Bell’s impact over the past three weeks. “Offensively, he makes decisions that don’t put us in bad situations. Sometimes you see a result and you don’t see it the way you want it to. If you look at it from the fans’ point of view, it’s a bad pitch or a bad decision.
“His ability to deal with the situation quickly and to make the right decisions to prevent us from these bad situations has been essential. Our attack is able to function effectively thanks to this ability.
Efficiency was an issue for the Bearcats’ offense in 2020. While they could tune in for big plays, Bell and starting quarterback Reece Essler combined to complete just 45.8 percent of their passes. They threw 21 interceptions between the two of them.
Bearcats can still hit the big game, but can now also consistently perform longer workouts.
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“It’s just an offseason and a spring to work on our profession. We didn’t really have that with COVID last year, ”Bell said. “I understand what my job as a quarterback is, knowing what to do with each game.
“I think I did my job by putting the ball in the hands of our playmakers.”
And Bell has options for playmakers.
Baron Brown gets the spotlight after going over 1,000 receiving yards and winning 22 Red River honors last season. True to form, Brown is the region’s top receiver, catching 27 passes for 483 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior Fisher Pullen has become a reliable deep threat with eight receptions for 174 yards.
“I grew up playing with Baron, and he has improved a lot over the years,” said Bell. “He was my # 1 target when we were in first year. He’s just a really good football player. Fisher is one of my best friends. He moved here last year and has really made progress.
“We also have other guys. Kutter Freeland has reliable hands, and guys like Logan Taylor and Klein Essler are good targets too. “
Bell also proved to be a double threat, leading the team with 246 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s something we felt we didn’t do enough in week 1 so we got together as the coaching staff and made a point of using it both in the running and passing game, ”Johnson said. “He answered that call. He has a knack for the way he runs, and his decision to lower him and run with it was important to us.
Bell is trending the Bearcats in the right direction, and with the District 6-3A Division II game on the horizon, they’ve gone from playoff contender to playoff favorite.
“This winning streak has been incredible. Last year we got off to a slow start, ”said Bell. “It was a bit difficult to keep a positive attitude. But we started to improve at the end of the year, and that has continued this season. We have made a huge improvement over last year, and I think we will continue to improve.