This past offseason, David Dean — who, in nine seasons at the helm at Valdosta State, took the Blazers to six NCAA postseasons, one Gulf South conference championship and two national championships — became the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at FBS program Georgia Southern. It left a big hole in Valdosta State’s program.
That hole was filled by Kerwin Bell.
Bell, who was named head coach for Valdosta State in January 2016, is no stranger to high-flying offenses and winning, coming off a run as the head coach at Jacksonville of the FCS. There, he accumulated a 66-35 record while establishing many league and program records. Perhaps, Bell is known more as the University of Florida Hall of Famer who was the Gators’ starting quarterback from 1984-87, winning the SEC Player of the Year in 1984. He turned that into a 13-year professional career.
“I tell people sometimes you can make yourself look good if you frame it the right way,” Bell said. “I played 13 years professionally. I threw for over a 100 touchdown passes and over 20,000 yards. All of that — aside for the one 5-for-5, 75 yards and one touchdown performance with the Colts — was done outside the NFL. I was the highest-rated quarterback rated in NFL history. And, I actually made the Hall of Fame with the Colts with the picture of me wearing the helmet cam for the first time.”
That legendary SEC quarterback was born, raised and schooled — and even drafted by the Miami Dolphins — in Florida. He was one of the most dominant Gator quarterbacks of his era and later a graduate-assistant coach under Steve Spurrier and his “fun and gun” offense. Crossing the state line and becoming a head coach in Georgia was sure to ruffle some feathers.
“I learned right away, you can’t say Florida-Georgia here, you have to refer to it as Georgia-Florida,” Bell said. “I have been having to make some adjustments. There’s a lot of great people who love our program here and support it. It’s been great so far.”
Early in Bell’s life, it was all about playing the game. He hadn’t given coaching much thought. In fact, if it wasn’t for a freak offseason injury, Bell may have never known he had an affinity for coaching.
“I got my degree in psychology, but I had no clue I wanted to coach,” Bell said. “Two years after being drafted, I was playing pickup basketball and tore my ACL in the offseason. So, I went to work with Steve Spurrier, who had just got hired as the new ball coach at Florida. At that time, I realized I wanted to be a coach.”
It was Spurrier’s style that caught Bell’s attention. Although he went back and continued his playing career, it stuck with him. Quietly, he paid close attention to other coaching styles, and over the years, he took little bits from each and made it his own.
“I saw perfection on the field,” Bell said. “I didn’t know you could attain that. I had never been coached like that, the way Spurrier implemented things. When I came back into coaching I took a lot of his philosophy, and lot from [Colts’] Lindy Infante. I tell people all the time, I didn’t make a whole lot of money playing professionally, but I got a whole lot of experience. I was under 11 different offensive coordinators in my 13 years. I’ve always been one of those guys who can absorb things mentally. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to see the Don Shulas, the Pete Carrolls, the Infantes and Spurriers. So, I took the great things I saw and made it into my own.”
His own style was that of big offenses and, obviously, solid quarterback play. No one was more excited by the hiring of a quarterback’s coach than sophomore Roland Rivers. Rivers saw some action as a freshman last year, but it was largely EJ Hilliard’s show in 2015. With the senior out of the picture, it was Rivers’ turn to shine.
“I didn’t really know much about him, but then when I did my research and saw the success that he had at all levels of football and knowing that he was a quarterback, a SEC Freshman of the Year and basically a quarterback guru, I knew I had a great opportunity,” Rivers said. “He’s a winner. He’s won everywhere that he’s been at, and that’s what got me excited to continue winning.”
It didn’t take long for Bell to shake things up once he arrived in Valdosta, however. After a few quarterbacks were lost to graduation and one transfer to junior college, suddenly, Rivers was the leader of a thin group at quarterback. Enter Adam Robles, a DI transfer from South Florida this past summer.
“Roland [Rivers] was one of the first guys I met,” Robles said. “He came right up to me and told me, ‘Coach told me you were coming here, and I think it’s great. It’s only going to make us better, and the competition is going to make us strive.’ I couldn’t have agreed more. We knew, in the beginning, we had to push each other, and that’s the reason we have been doing so well and are trying to make each other better players. It’s the quarterback’s job to make everyone around us better. The team sees how hard we work, and that motivates everyone around us.”
One would think that, with two young sophomores battling for starting supremacy, egos could get in the way, or perhaps a rivalry would form between the two. However, both Robles and Rivers have learned to work together as a formidable two-headed monster, pushing each other to be greater each and every game. They share the offense, and neither complain when the other comes in, simply stepping aside and waiting for their next opportunity.
The stats tell the tale. Rivers — heading into this weekend’s action — has passed for 813 yards and seven touchdowns. Robles has passed for 880 yards and seven more touchdowns. They have combined to give the Blazer a passing attack of 338.6 yards a game.
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