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Serving country in Bell’s DNA

Jelani Matai Bell practices at Campolindo on March 23, 2021. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo
Jelani Matai Bell practices at Campolindo on March 23, 2021. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo

Serving his country was something Campolindo senior lineman Jelani Matai Bell always envisioned.

Bell’s family has been around the military for as long as he can remember. His grandparents on both sides – and beyond – have been in the military.

So, it was only natural Bell did the same.

And that is just what Bell will do, as he will continue his athletic career at West Point in the fall, choosing Army over offers from Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Wyoming.

“I always did value that military life,” Bell said. “I wanted to see how it would go for me, and also I just love the competition they have. I just love the intensity that they show on and off the field. I could see myself becoming just a military officer after I’m done with West Point.”

Finding this type of success was something Bell – and many others – always saw out of him. 

When Bell first began playing football, he just saw it more as a sport. But, as time rolled on and he reached the eighth grade and then high school years, Bell’s future began to take shape.

“Other people saw it in me,” Bell said. “I think once the first coach reached out to me I knew I could actually do something with this sport and that it could bring me to the Division I level.”

This season, Bell is showing why he will be an FBS student-athlete in just a few months.

Bell has helped pave the way for a consistently punishing ground attack, as Campolindo is averaging exactly five yards per carry and is up to 461 rushing yards through three games while boasting a perfect 3-0 record – including a recent 28-13 victory in a top 25 matchup over rival Acalanes. 

It’s a product of the work Bell put in during the offseason, when he enhanced his conditioning and worked out every day in preparation for the season.

“Definitely got just stronger,” Bell said. “I became a better leader on this team. Obviously I have to transition from right side to the left side over the offseason, so that was a big change. Overall, just leadership, strength. There’s a lot of things that I’ve seen improvement on and proud of.”

Just as Bell said, he’s made the move to a different side of the line, but he’s made the most of the opportunity.

The toughest parts of the move included switching up his footing and understanding the blocking from a new side of the field, as the righty was blocking on the right side a year ago.

He credits his family and the coaches around him for their key roles during this journey.

“I can honestly thank my family, just my mom making sure I kept my grades up and my dad making sure I just kept my body straight,” Bell said. “Took me to all these camps, all these workouts I can do. He got me the exposure I needed. I’m just thankful for all of them. 

“I thank God obviously for getting me this far. I thank my team, just my coach, my lineman coach. He’s just helping me and conditioning us, conditioning all of us on the line every day, making sure we keep our bodies straight and keep focused. I was talking to just a bunch of mentors who just helped me out in the recruiting process in general, just teaching me what to do day in and day out.”

Most importantly, Bell is just excited he gets the chance to play his senior season after the numerous delays. He wanted to get one more chance to play defense. One more chance to play offensively. One more chance to block for the running backs and quarterbacks. 

All of that came true, and Bell is eager to continue growing and preparing for the next chapter of his career.

“Just to get faster, just prepare myself for West Point,” Bell said. “I know it’s going to be a different lifestyle. I’m going to have to cut my hair. I’m going to have to live that military life, so I just want to prepare myself. It’s going to be a rude awakening for me. I’ve just got to prepare myself. Just got to get myself conditioned. Got to be ready to beat Navy.” 

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