Robert Bell doesn't try to hide the fact that he looks forward to facing Eastern Michigan more than any other team on the University of Toledo's schedule every year.
That's because Bell, a junior weakside linebacker for the Rockets, was all set to join the Eagles coming out of East Grand Rapids (Mich.) High School before they suddenly dropped his scholarship offer during his senior year.
"This game has a little extra meaning for me," Bell said earlier this week as the Rockets prepared to face Eastern Michigan at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
"There's still kind of a bad taste in my mouth. Obviously, I'm very happy with my decision to come to Toledo, and I do not regret anything. But this week I'll definitely have extra focus on our opponent."
Fortunately for Bell, UT was there to pick him back up with an offer to become a Rocket.
"What really told me I needed to come here is when [coach Tim Beckman and co-defensive coordinator Mike Ward] made a trip [the week before signing day] all the way out to my house three hours from here in Grand Rapids in almost a blizzard," Bell said. "The snowfall was crazy, and it was a bad night, but they still managed to make it to my house. That showed me that they actually coach what they preach about this team being a family."
Bell will never forget the loyalty shown to him by the UT coaches and the disloyalty shown to him by Eastern Michigan.
During his freshman season, Bell had a 67-yard interception return in the Rockets' 47-21 rout of the Eagles.
So far this season, Bell leads UT with 38 tackles and has filled the void left behind when junior middle linebacker Danny Molls, UT's top returning tackler, went down with an unspecified leg injury before the Ohio State game early last month.
Bell credited the rapport he already had with Molls' replacement, senior Terrell Anderson, as a reason for his success.
"T.A. and I have both been playing with the [backups] for the last two years in practice, so we've played together more so than even Danny and myself," Bell said. "Once T.A. got on the field, it was almost like we were back in practice."
Because of that comfort level, the duo hasn't missed a beat.
What should have been a significant, damaging injury with Molls sitting out for the last four games has been minimized greatly.
Anderson is fifth on the team with 25 tackles and has averaged 5 1/2 tackles per game in place of Molls.
"I was ready for it to be Danny and I at the two linebacker spots," Bell said. "But once Danny went down, T.A. was up and ready. I haven't had to increase my role and be a super-human because T.A. is just as good.
As the successor to Archie Donald, who looked super-human at times while becoming the first UT player ever to lead his team in tackling for three straight seasons, Bell said he learned plenty while studying under him as a freshman and sophomore.
"He was a relentless player," Bell said. "He's one of a kind. He just makes plays, his effort's there, he reads [offenses], he watches film. It's like, if I didn't learn anything from him there's something wrong with me."
A week after holding Temple running back Bernard Pierce -- the MAC's leading rusher -- to 75 yards on 24 carries, Bell and the Rockets with match up with the MAC's top rushing team statistically. The Eagles average 233 yards per game on the ground.
"The preparation will be very [similar] to when we played Ohio State, Syracuse, and Temple," Beckman said. "You can see [Eastern Michigan] has been very, very successful in the run game. It'll be important for us defensively to swarm to the football and gang-tackle and tackle in open space."
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ZachSilka.
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