The first tears came before he reached the sideline.
They were there before anyone knew the ACL was gone, before anyone knew Devontay Bell had been lost for the season — before Bell knew his life had been as ravaged as his right knee.
A river of tears followed.
“I felt the pain, and I cried the night it happened,’’ said Bell, Corsicana’s electric quarterback who has spent the last nine months coming back from a torn ACL. “But I cried even more two days later when they told me I wouldn’t play the rest of the season. That’s when the real pain hit.’’
He was a wreck.
“I cried for two weeks straight,’’ Bell said. “I stayed to myself. I never showed the team how I felt. I couldn’t show the team that. It would bring them down. So when I would show up to watch film and show up at practice, I would always be positive — always.’’
It was a lonely journey back.
“He would get so depressed he would just go in his room and cry,’’ said Bell’s mother, LaToya Miles, who was Bell’s only outlet in the early stages. “He would stay alone. He felt like everyone had forgotten him.’’
Bell never talked about the injury.
Everyone asked. Everyone wanted to know.
“I would just say nothing when they asked me,’’ said Bell, shaking his head. “No one really knew what really happened. I never told anyone. I didn’t want to talk about it.’’
It still hurts, the memory and the comeback, but at least now he can talk about that night.
Bell had helped lead Corsicana to the Class 4A Division II state semifinals as a sophomore and couldn’t wait for his junior season to begin. He was sky-high and about to soar higher.
Three weeks later, it was over.
Bell was just being Bell, flying in the open field against Forney HIgh’s defense, cutting, dodging, weaving — mystique mingling with instinct. He felt invincible.
No one touched him.
“No one hit me when I got hurt. I went to make a cut to get around a guy and when I planted my right foot my leg just bent,’’ he said this week, finally reliving the moment. “I felt something, but I didn’t think I was injured. I just thought it was a funny feeling. I left the game and was I running fine on the sidelines, and I when I went back in the game. I thought I was OK.’’
Then he felt the first flash. It scared him.
“I felt it when I bent down to pick up the football and throw it back to the ref,’’ he said. “I felt it then. I felt something was wrong. And then on the next play I was running, and I just started running to the sideline to get out of bounds. It just died. My knee was gone.’’
Pain washed over him — head-to-toe pain like he had never felt.
“It was like someone took a knife and stuck it right into my leg,’’ he said. “I felt like I couldn’t move.’’
First came the pain, then the silence, then the crutches and surgery and more crutches.
He limped back with his eyes toward the heavens.
“I prayed every day,’’ Bell said. “I pray all the time about little things you wouldn’t think of, and I prayed hard about my leg. That’s what got me through it — prayer.’’
Bell is an only child, and he took the first steps back with the strength of his mother.
“She was my right-hand man,’’ Bell said. “She was the only one I could talk to when I was down. She told me it just happens, that it’s just a bump in the road. We prayed together.’’
Miles did everything she should to help.
“I even cooked his favorite foods, nachos, fried chicken, corn bread and mashed potatoes, anything to help him from feeling so bad. He was so depressed,’’ she said. “Football is my baby’s heart. It was tearing him up.
“It would get me so depressed, I would go to my room and cry,’’ she said. “I even called my mom to ask her advice. We prayed and read the Bible. Prayer got us through it.’’
Game nights were the worst.
“I got emotional every Friday night before the game,’’ Bell said. “I went through my normal routine just like I was playing. I listen to music, read my Bible and think about game situations. I think about things that could happen in the game and what I will do when they happen. I’ve been doing that since my first start as a freshman against West Mesquite. I kept doing my routine even though I wasn’t playing. It was hard on Friday nights.
“When you get hurt, it’s like everything is taken away from you,’’ Bell said. “You have to earn everything back.’’
He stopped and then looked at his right leg.
“You can’t do anything without your leg,’’ he said. Then he looked up, like he was looking ahead.
“The next day after I got hurt I started thinking about next season, my senior season,’’ Bell said. “I had to come back.’’
The surgery came on Oct. 18.
Two days later, Bell started his rehab. Two weeks later, he was off crutches and trying to walk on his own.
“Two days after the surgery, I got on the phone (to his physical therapist) and she told me to start doing leg lifts,’’ he said.
He did a couple of hundred a day, up-and-down, up-and-down, side-to side.
“It hurt at first and there were times you just didn’t want to do them, but I had to force myself. That’s when you find out what you have inside. That’s when you find your character,’’ said Bell, who moved on eventually to riding the stationary bike and finally to working out with weights.’’
Miles saw the difference immediately.
“Every little thing he did brought so much joy to him,’’ she said. “He couldn’t wait to tell me.’’
There was one recurring problem.
“He wanted to go too fast,’’ said Bernie Camarillo, who has been the athletic trainer at Corsicana High School for 33 years. “He was always trying to do more, and when I would tell him no, he would go to the other trainer, Eric Rider, and try to get him to let him do more. It was like that every day. We had to work together and be on the same page with him. We had to pull in the reigns on him.’’
That didn’t surprise anyone who knew Bell.
“Devontay has a great desire,’’ said Corsicana Athletic Director Billy Harlan, who is close to Bell. “Devontay is a very determined kid. He wants to make something of himself. He wants to get well. He wants to go to college. He wants to do something special.
“He’s one of the best pure athletes around,’’ Harlan said. “There have been a lot of great athletes come through Corsicana and he’s one of them. Coming back from an injury for an athlete , it’s pure desire. He has that desire.’’
Bell took a hit when college recruiters started showing up at the high school.
“They were offering to everyone everywhere around, but I got no offers,’’ he said. “They all said they wanted to wait and see about the leg. It never hurt my feelings. It was more like motivation for me.’’
Bell, who might play quarterback or cornerback in college, is back on the field today. He’s playing 7-on-7 football and running and working out in the weight room daily during summer voluntary workouts.
“He’s about 85 to 90 percent back,’’ said new Corsicana coach Steve Hoffman, who took over in April. “And he looks real good right now. He can go from one to 100 mph just like that! He’s fast now and we think he might get a little faster.’’
Bell went to a recruiting camp at Texas Tech this week and ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. He smiles so much these days it’s hard to imagine he was ever depressed.
“He calls me after every practice and tells me what he did that day,’’ Miles said. “And there is so much joy in his voice. He can’t wait for the season to begin, and neither can I.’’
It can’t come too soon for Bell.
“I’m excited,’’ Bell said, almost shouting. “I can’t wait. I wake up every morning, and it’s one day closer. I want to come back, but I just don’t want to come back. I want to come back 10 times better. I don’t want to be that dude that everybody says, ‘He’s not as good as he used to be.’
“I thought about that over and over, that I want to come back, that I had to come back. I’m feeling it now, really feeling it.’’
He said with a sparkle in his eyes.
Hard to tell there were ever any tears there.
The first tears came before he reached the sideline.
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