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Marine escapes streets to earn Division I football scholarship

Tyriek Bell has been a Marine Corps Sergeant, a junior college football standout and now a 2021 University of Hawaii commit. (Courtesy: @BellTyriek/Twitter)

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (BVM) – After an all-area football career at Westwood High School in Blythewood, S.C., Tyriek Bell’s journey has since taken him to more places than he could’ve imagined just six years ago.

Bell enrolled at Tusculum University, a private Division II school in Tennessee, upon his high school graduation in 2014 and quickly realized it wasn’t the place for him. He redshirted that fall and spent too much time near his hometown of Columbia, S.C. in the spring.

“I was still finding myself in the streets a little too much, and being in the streets where I’m from is not good,” Bell said.

A 2018 study found that Columbia was the 25th-most dangerous city in America. At a crossroads in his life and looking for a way out, Bell found exactly that while sitting on his parents’ couch.

“I was sitting on the couch and I saw this commercial that was like ‘If you spent your entire life fighting for others’ which I have, ‘then the Marine Corps will be the perfect place for you.’

“I felt like that was a calling and I took it.”

Bell left Tusculum on March 22, 2015 and was at the Marine Corps recruiting office on March 26.

“My goal was just to get away from Columbia, S.C.,” Bell said.

Bell served with three different infantry battalions and was once deployed to patrol outside of China and Korea during his four-year stint. He ascended to Sergeant E5 and his final unit was at Camp Pendleton with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

But as Bell began to find structure with the Marines, his first passion never faded.

After a pickup game-sealing touchdown catch that dropped the jaws of his fellow Marines, Bell convinced his staff sergeant to deploy him to California where the presence of infantry football is heavy. Bell played for three different Marine Corps teams and couldn’t hide his natural talent for the sport.

“Guys kept telling me like ‘Dude, you’re pretty talented at this football thing. If you have some eligibility left, you should get out and go for it,’” Bell said.

Bell did have eligibility left, and he did go for it. The NCAA freezes a player’s eligibility clock during military service or church missions.

The Marine saved up 69 leave days to return home earlier than his designated service time and immediately began doing research. Bell said he contacted a myriad of schools within a driving distance of his California home until one program gave him a shot.

“Saddleback (Community College) was the first school to respond and that’s where I went,” Bell said. “They didn’t seem too impressed. They were like ‘this old dude thinks he’s going to come out here and try to relive the dream.’

“I told them I think I can still do it and just went out there and started competing.”

Bell did more than just compete in his first live football action in five years; he starred.

The coaching staff started Bell out at strong safety where he was “about 217 pounds and moving a little too slow” before moving him to linebacker. In 2019, Bell had a team-high 79 tackles, including 53 solo stops. He also tallied 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his lone season with Saddleback.

“I was just motivated,” Bell said. “I told everyone I was on a mission; I don’t think they really understand what I’m saying.”

The conference’s National Division Co-Defensive Player of the Year attracted the attention of Division I staffs and will sign his National Letter of Intent to the University of Hawaii on Dec. 16, the first day of the NCAA Early Signing Period for football recruits. Bell will have three years of eligibility remaining when he joins the program in 2021.

The Rainbow Warriors run a defensive scheme and have a program that fits Bell’s skillset right now, not just down the road.

“Hawaii told me they love to attack, they love to blitz and get to the quarterback,” Bell said. “For me, being the age I am, I don’t want to go to a program and sit around and wait. That’s OK, but I want to get to a program that needs talented players that know they’re talented and work extremely hard.

“Not saying that they (Hawaii) needed me, but they needed that energy. I feel like my energy is contagious.”

More than anything, Hawaii can provide a lifestyle that suits Bell. After four years on a strict regimen with the Marine Corps, Bell doesn’t require too much of the extra stuff.

Being isolated and limited is something the Columbia native cherishes. When Bell sat on his parents’ couch just five years ago wondering how he’d get out of the streets, it’s safe to say he couldn’t have fathomed The Big Island at the time.

“I need some limitations in my life,” Bell said. “I don’t want to be able to go on a vacation, have friends come visit me or have to tell them no. At this point in my life, I’m a bit older than the rest of the guys. I just want to focus on the goals.

“I want to train and get educated; I want to turn into a robot. I feel like the best place for me to do that is isolated on an island.”

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