PULLMAN, Wash. — WSU wide receiver Renard Bell has returned to practicing with the football team this spring after being out all last season with an ACL tear.
The Cougs will certainly need him next year as he is easily the team’s most experienced wide out, starting 29 games in his career.
As you could gather from that stat, Renard’s been around this for more than a bit.
He’s been the one consistent around WSU’s football program in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and now, 2022.
There are a select few NCAA players that have accomplished seven years of eligibility.
Renard is now a part of that exclusive club, something he couldn’t have fathomed if the idea would’ve been floated to him at the beginning of his freshman season.
“Yeah, right. I wouldn't have believed you,” said Renard Bell with a laugh.
Nobody around WSU probably would’ve believed you either, as Bell is believed to be the first player to ever play seven years for the Cougs.
“I set a record,” said Bell doubling over in laughter. “Oh my goodness. I need a placard.”
So, how exactly does one pull off seven years of eligibility?
Well, Renard Bell redshirted his freshman year. Then played the next four seasons. However, his last year was when Covid hit, giving him an extra season of eligibility. The plan was for him to use that extra year last season before he tore his ACL right before fall camp. A shoe-in for a medical redshirt, Bell took it, and decided to come back for one last ride.
It’s been quite a journey for the just turned 24-year-old, but, understandably, the past year has been particularly difficult.
“It really sucked because I love the sport. I've been playing since I was four or five years old, so being away from it was devastating, really,” said Bell.
Bell also never entertained walking away though.
“Oh no, I was always going to play football. It was just that daily struggle of, ‘Do I want to get up and go to rehab today? I might just lay down right here.’ But, you've just got to mentally push past that,” said Bell.
When Bell fully suits up again this fall, he’ll be catching passes from his fifth starting quarterback over the Los Angeles native’s time in Pullman, with his third college coaching staff calling plays.
He could’ve easily entered his name into the portal and ended up somewhere else this offseason, but that was never an option in Renard’s mind.
“Pullman is like a family. The city is like a big family, pretty much. The atmosphere here is something you can’t get anywhere else. I want to finish where I started. When I go somewhere, I like to commit. That's what I'm about, commitment. That's why I stayed. Because Pullman is home for me. Pullman is where I should be,” said Bell.
In September when Bell runs on the field to play Idaho in WSU’s opener, it’ll be 33 months since he’s been able to play in front of his hometown crowd.
He’s already savoring the moment, four months out.
“It’s going to be blissful. It’s going to be really joyful with the smoke coming out from the tunnel, running out of the locker room. That’s a moment that I've been waiting for for over a year now,” said Bell as he began daydreaming into the distance. “Yeah, that's going to be a sweet moment.”
He’s also already savoring his final home game in a Coug uniform.
UW is slated to play the Apple Cup in Pullman this year.
After not being able to participate in last year’s first Cougar win in the series since 2012, Renard is licking his chops for his own turn at the Huskies.
“Oh, I can't wait. I’m shaking just thinking about it, like, I can't wait. I can’t contain myself,” said Bell grinning from ear to ear. “As I played in each game, I understood why we hate them. And I fo sho hate them.”
Renard’s goals for next season go well beyond that contest though.
If you know Renard, you know he won’t put limitations on himself or his team.
He’s letting himself dream for next season, and after achieving a record-setting seventh year of eligibility, who can blame him?
“National championship, honestly. Apple Cup win. Rose Bowl. Pac-12. Undefeated and shocking the world. Being the most exciting team to watch college football this year,” said Bell of his goals for his squad.
And what makes him think that his team would be able to do something like that?
“Because it's a new Wazzu,” quipped Renard.
A new Wazzu, that will also feature some old man flavor.