AUBURN, Ala. — Wilson Bell won a football national championship at Florida State, but the original team of his dreams was the one he beat to get that ring — Auburn.
Bell made a graduate transfer to Auburn from Florida State this summer, and he is one of eight candidates to start along the Tigers offensive line in 2017. But even if he doesn’t earn a spot in the starting lineup, Bell said he’s ready to do whatever is best for his new team.
“It’s just a new offense,” Bell said Saturday. “So I might not be ready, and I want the best five guys on the field that can help the team. When it’s my time to step up, I want to be the guy that can do that.”
Most graduate transfers are expected to start immediately at their new home. However, Bell has received stiff competition from Auburn sophomore guards Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell. Braden Smith — Auburn’s best offensive lineman — might stay at right guard this fall instead of right tackle, where he worked all spring.
Bell hasn’t worked anywhere other than right guard in fall camp.
“He’s one of the new guys coming in, and we’re just trying to be very simple with the new guys and let them get set in one position and give them the best chance of being successful,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
If Auburn sticks to its first-team starting lineup from its second scrimmage and Bell stays only at right guard, he won’t start the season opener against Georgia Southern in two weeks.
Being a reserve is nothing new to Bell, though. At Florida State, Bell was replaced by Landon Dickerson in 2016 after an injury. But by the end of the season, Bell was back in the mix for the Seminoles.
“Always be prepared,” Bell said. “It’s the same thing. … You can never say, ‘Oh, man, my time is over, and I’ll never get a chance again.’ My mindset is to keep preparing.”
Bell will prepare at a school he said he dreamed of playing for in high school. The Mobile, Ala., native played at Mattie T. Blount High School, the same school as former Auburn quarterback and assistant coach Dameyune Craig.
The Tigers offered a scholarship to the former 3-star prospect a few days after the Seminoles in January 2013. Bell ultimately signed with Florida State. A year later, he was in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn.
When Bell decided it was “time for a new change of scenery” and transfer from Florida State, Auburn didn’t miss out on its second chance.
“Growing up, you always want to play in the Iron Bowl,” Bell said. “The recruiting process, it didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to. Even though I went and won a national championship and everything, it was like God said, ‘I’m going to give you another chance to go to the school you always dreamed of going to.’ I did that. Getting this opportunity was tremendous. It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
That familiarity with Auburn and the coaching staff made for a smooth transition this offseason.
“The guys have just lifted me up,” Bell said. “I feel like I’ve been here four years with these guys. I love this school. I’m glad I got a chance to come back.”
Bell had to make the adjustment to the new offensive system and the tempo of Auburn — both of which were different than what he experienced at Florida State.
“He’s learning how we do things — not just the who-to’s, but the how-to’s as well,” Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand said last week. “And he’s obviously got a lot of experience, so his learning curve is going to be a little bit faster. Once he actually gets it and the lights click, it’s going to accelerate his development.”
With two weeks before the opener, Bell has time to take over a starting job on Auburn’s offensive line. But if he doesn’t make the first team, the 6-foot-5, 338-pound offensive guard said his mindset won’t change.
“All I can do out there is do my job and do the best I can for the team,” Bell said. “Whatever happens, happens.”