ROUGHLY 150 kids sprinkled the football field at Northeast High School on Tuesday. For new Eagles left tackle Demetress Bell, the handful that stood out were the ones that had never played football before.
Bell can relate. Despite standing at 6-5 with a hulking frame, Bell didn't step foot on a football field until he was a sophomore in college. Born out of wedlock to NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone, Bell's bloodlines led him to Louisiana's Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship where he eventually switched sports and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2008.
The Eagles eagerly scooped up Bell in free agency in April after losing starting tackle Jason Peters to a right Achilles' tear. He hasn't had time to get to know Philadelphia, has yet to find a place to live and after only a couple of OTAs, hasn't exchanged much more than pleasantries with his new teammates.
Yet on Tuesday, with less than 2 weeks before the start of training camp, Bell was at Northeast High talking technique and snap counts with kids, grades 1-to-12, as part of his Philadelphia Kids Fun Day venture with Flying Colors Sports.
"It is something I didn't have growing up as a kid," Bell said. "They're out of school now. So just to get the kids doing something, off the street, keeping them active — it was just something to give back."
The goal of the program is to help area youth reach their potential through exposure to professional athletes like Bell.
Bell is entering his fifth NFL season and has always made an admirable effort to give back to whatever community he has been part of. He holds a similar camp every year in his hometown of Summerfield, a rural town in northern Louisiana that didn't provide him much exposure to football.
"I didn't even have pee-wee," he said. "It was rural. You had to walk down the streets looking out for who was playing basketball."
With his size and explosive athleticism, the football team relentlessly courted Bell once at Northwestern State. He finally gave in, and after only a couple of snaps his junior year it was obvious he had been playing the wrong sport.
Along with his brother and two sisters, Bell was raised by a single mother, Gloria, and had to work full-time while playing basketball to make ends meet — not exactly the blueprint for aspiring NFLers.
"When I saw those five or six guys that came up and had never played, I was actually happy," Bell said. "I told them whatever they want to do, if they put their mind to it they can do it. I came from the same thing. I never played football until my last 2 years [in college] and now I play for a living."
Bell knows that summer is usually vacation time for most guys in the league, but his natural inclination is to get involved in the community.
"It's amazing — his heart is so big," said Greg Benton, who owns Flying Colors Sports and runs camps with Bell and other pro athletes around the country. "He just likes to be out with the kids. He always says when he gets done playing ball, all he wants to do is teach and coach."
But for now, Bell is still a player — an important player, playing an important position in a critical season for a team with title aspirations — and he knows it.
"Super Bowl — that is it," Bell said of his goals for this season. "That is all anyone here is talking about."