There is no need to look Ceyontay Bell’s way as a statistic or sob story.
The recent graduate from Bakersfield High was a standout on the football field for the Drillers the past two seasons and recorded a GPA of 3.83 his senior year.
Bell leaves Sunday for Ferris State in Michigan after earning a football scholarship for the program that finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Division II championships last December.
Before looking at Bell’s potential for a bright future, it’s best to know where he came from to truly understand how he fights demons daily to remain on the proper path to success despite his tough upbringing and the tragedy he has endured.
Life on the streets
Bell’s dad was his guiding light despite being a known member of the Country Boy Crips and was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on Jan. 27, 2013 when Bell was just 13 years old.
Despite his father’s affiliation with the known violent gang in Bakersfield, he had other plans for his eldest son.
Charles L. Bell, Jr., who was known as C-Macc on the streets, had a plan set in place for his son that did not mirror his own choices that ultimately took his life.
It’s wasn’t about making it on the streets for his son, rather, it was about school and sports and making it out.
Ceyontay Bell is doing that.
Bell was a two-way standout for BHS the past two seasons after transferring from South after his sophomore season on varsity for the Rebels when he rushed for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016.
In 2018, Bell had 68 tackles and four interceptions with two returned for scores. On offense, Bell racked up more than 500 total yards and seven more touchdowns.
Living with ‘different people’
Because of his dad’s past and other troubles at home when he was still a toddler, Bell was put into the foster care system.
Like so many children of that age displaced from their family, Bell routinely began to find it hard to trust adults because of his lack of consistency between his biological family and the foster care homes he was in and out of growing up.
“When you get taken away from your family, you have to grow up with no parents,” Bell said. “You see new faces and different people. They are sometimes just there for the money or because they have nothing else to do. It’s an easy job. You can sit there. I felt some type of way, but still, I knew that the system is there to help and another spot from keeping the kids off the street. But sometimes, it’s just a place.”
Bell has found consistency over the last two years in a group home that is run by a woman known as Ms. Marcy, but here he is — in his own words — ready to get “up out of here.”
Ms. Marcy quickly saw how special of a young man Bell is.
“He’s always shown potential,” she said. “He has a big heart and is very charismatic.”
The allure of the streets is constantly on his mind, but Bell knows that for him and the legacy of his father, that’s not the right situation for himself.
Bell has taken on a mentoring role inside the house for the other boys living there.
“These boys aren’t my brothers, but I still try to make sure everyone is situated and has a game plan and knows what they want to do in life,” Bell said. “That’s how I maintain in the system, by helping others.”
Seeing his dad in a different light
Bell doesn’t look at his father the way the outside world might.
“I know that if my father would have had a choice, he would have never been doing what he had to do,” Bell said. “That’s my dude. He raised me. He made me the leader and the family guy that I am. The sacrifices I do is reflective of what he did. He was there for me. He always said, ‘Son. If you want to talk to me I am there.’”
But his dad was, according to Bell, “one of them dudes.”
“That’s all I knew,” Bell said. “In terms of hanging with my family, I am hanging with gang members if you are looking from the outside. That’s all that I know. I am moving around and they are all chillin’ and smokin’ with guns out. I see what’s going on. That’s my life, I guess.”
That’s also part of the reason why Bell knew that he needed sports, specifically football, to better his life.
He also needed positive role models. One that came on early in high school was Clayton Madden.
The former South High standout came back to his alma mater late to coach the boys basketball team in 2016 after Rebels boys basketball coach Brian Carter died in a single-car accident.
Madden, a lieutenant with the Bakersfield Police Department, said he instantly gravitated to Bell because of his infectious smile and having first-hand knowledge of his father and his death.
“He was surrounded by so many temptations,” Madden recalls of when he first met Bell. “He could have easily gone astray. But he had the right people in place to guide him. He’s sharp and mature and figured out the right way.”
Bell has a smile that lights up a room, but when it’s not there, everyone takes notice.
“That smile is very infectious,” Madden said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out if he’s having a bad day because that smile wouldn't be there. We had those days.”
One of those days was when Bell showed up late to basketball practice at South. Madden said he reprimanded him and Bell quickly blew off the orders from his coach.
“I sent him home to cool off. He came back and explained himself,” Madden said. “I told him to apologize to his teammates. He stood up and apologized for his actions. From that day, I never had another issue with him. He knew his actions let the team down. He’s just one of those kids that, as a coach, you will never forget.”
When Bell transferred to BHS, more change came his way and not without a little bit of resentment at first.
“He showed up late in the summer and I really didn’t know anything about him,” said Paul Golla, who was the head coach at BHS before moving to Garces this year. “But he fit right in like he’s always been there.”
While there were issues here and there between the coaching staff and Bell, all were quickly dissolved because of his desire to succeed.
“We had a meeting with him and the group home parents and we stated what needed to happen or he would not be successful,” Golla said. “We did the best with key words that would help him stay focused. Sometimes he takes things personal that he should take personal. He has had to fight for everything. He had several opportunities to quit. But he stuck with it.”
Then there was a situation early in the football season when Golla took the team to Maya Cinemas to watch a movie together.
Bell said after the movie was over, he went to the bathroom. When he came out, no one was left in the lobby. The rest of the team left and walked the short distance back to campus down California Avenue.
He was worried about walking down California at night knowing the gang affiliation attached to his family in a rival region of town.
“I’m walking, looking both ways over my shoulder,” Bell said. “I am afraid of someone pulling up on me asking ‘where you from?’ Or pulling out a gun on me.”
Making his own way
Standing at 5-foot-7 and weighing less than 170 pounds, Bell does not fit the standard look for a Division I college football player.
“The thing about C-Bell is he is a fighter,” Golla said. “That’s what he has going for him. He has that vision and focus that he sees that he wants to go to college. Some kids don’t have that vision."
Former BHS and current Garces assistant coach Cody Stone and Golla sent Bell’s film to Ferris State coach Tony Annese. The Bulldogs were fresh off playing for the NCAA D-II national championship and liked what Bell could bring to the team.
Stone took Bell to his visit to Ferris State, which is three hours northeast from Detroit in the western side of Michigan. Bell saw teammates like Cameron Williams sign with Washington and Carl Jones ink his name to UCLA, but wasn’t concerned about their future because he had his own plans.
“Everyone has their own path and God has a plan for everyone," Bell said. "This is his plan for me. This is what I am going to do.”
Bell never heard of Ferris State before being recruited and said he couldn’t locate Michigan on a map before going there.
“I want to go there and develop myself and become a better person. I want to experience new things and meet new people. I want to grow as a person.”
His past is not indicative of his future, and those that have surrounded him realize his potential is greater than his upbringing.
“Everybody has a story,” Stone said. “But instead of letting that story dictate where he goes, he made himself dictate where he goes. We think that he is going to make a difference in the world. I am going to miss the heck out of him. We all will.”
Bell plans on getting his degree in communications with the hope of being a motivational speaker in the future.
“I can talk to them because I have been in their shoes,” Bell said. “I have all the youth in one room and remind them they can all get help and go get it. People are all there to help.”
All while trying to continue the path that his father wanted for him.
“I have to. I am a leader,” Bell said. “My father instilled that into me as a young one. I have brothers and sisters looking up to me. I have to make a path for them. I am seeing how everyone is living positive lives … all that is doing is separating it away from my community and where I came from. Now it’s out of sight, out of mind. I am here now and loving it and I am feeling it. I want to be a part of this.”