Ronnie Bell had been exiled from campus amid the pandemic. Gyms were closed. So were local football fields. But the junior wide receiver had to find a way to train. So on his second day home, his dad came up with the ultimate workout. 

That’s how Bell ended up pushing a Chevy Tahoe around his neighborhood, racing his 16-year-old twin brothers who pushed a Lexus about half the size.

Bell’s story has been repeated ad nauseam. Originally committed to play basketball at Missouri State, Bell received a late offer from Michigan in 2017 and stepped into a starting role his sophomore year. Once an afterthought on a unit that included Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black, Bell finished the 2019 season with a team-best 758 receiving yards. 

Peoples-Jones and Black are gone now. Collins likely is, too, with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh saying on a WTKA appearance Monday that he hasn’t submitted a waiver request. Bell is the most experienced receiver left. Still, he’s a bit under the radar. During a Zoom media session Thursday, Bell spent roughly the first half of the call answering questions about teammates before he was asked about himself. But Bell knows he’s the anchor of this unit, and when the season starts Oct. 24, it will be his turn to step into the spotlight.

“I realized it more, especially with all those guys gone now, I’m lowkey kinda old,” Bell said. “And for all the younger guys, every day in practice I just wanna show them the effort it takes, whether that’s when you get the ball or not or you’re out there blocking on the edge, I just wanna show all the guys the intensity that we gotta play with.”

Bell’s best quality as a player is his ability to get open and evade contact, but he’s struggled with drops — never more apparent than last year, when he let the potential game-tying touchdown at Penn State slip through his fingers. That’s something Bell’s been working on in practice, putting more emphasis on taking care of the ball. He’s worked on his strength, thanks to the Tahoe. And especially, he’s worked on his speed.

When Bell watches film, he sees himself making plays and is hungry to make more. He practices hard, setting the standard for everyone around him. He’s prepared to move outside the slot more and play any position if that’s what the team needs.

“Just being able to have a guy that’s played a ton of football, he understands things, and Ronnie’s motivated,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Wednesday. “Even though a lot of people view a success for Ronnie last year, Ronnie believed, and he knows that last year, it was just scratching the surface. There were opportunities to be even better, so now it’s about how he can take his game from one year and develop it the next year and make it even better.”

Undersized for a receiver at just six feet tall, Bell knows that what he lacks in height, he must make up for in skill. As the leader of a receiver room that also includes 5-foot-9 Giles Jackson and 5-foot-10 Mike Sainristil, Bell knows the intensity they’ll have to bring with the “tall guys” gone.

Bell was never supposed to be the guy leading the receivers his junior year. He’s not Collins and he acknowledges as much. But he’s starting to find his footing as a leader, and now, on the precipice of stepping into the spotlight, he may just be the right guy for the job.

“He has a tremendous work ethic, I’d say,” Jackson said on Sept. 17. “He definitely brings all the juice to the receiver room. He’s super fun to be around, Id say hes the jokester of the group by far. He’s super fun to be around. He always brings energy to practice, he brings us with him.”

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