The Oklahoma caravan came into Wichita with the city's own Blake Bell in the driver's seat Monday.
Local Sooner fans gathered at the Abode Venue in downtown Wichita to welcome the Oklahoma quarterback and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel in a fundraising dinner and auction. One of the great basketball players in Kansas State history, Steve Henson, who is now an assistant coach at OU, was also in attendance.
"It's been good to get back and see family when I can and to get away for a bit. You're in such a grind mode down there so when you come back, it's good. But right now, I've got a couple more weeks and I'll get back down there and start working out again," said Bell, who is in the midst of a battle for the backup quarterback spot on OU's roster with the return of redshirt senior Landry Jones.
A strong performance in Oklahoma's spring game helped Bell's cause, throwing for 179 yards and a touchdown. Those passing yards mark a contrast from his aerial performance in his first full season with the Sooners in 2011, when he threw for 8 yards on 1 of 4 passing. However, he set the school's all time record for rushing touchdowns (13) by a freshman quarterback.
"I never really thought that would happen but all of a sudden we played K-State and the week before we put it in (the end zone) and it went from there," he said.
He's got a great make-up. He's extremely competitive. He believes in himself and he's got a great work ethic. His dad (Mike) and his uncle (Mark), he's taken a lot of great lessons from them. All of the success they had in college and at the next level. And he's a great teammate so he's had a lot of success on the field but obviously has a lot of upside still," said Heupel.
Once Bell does return to Norman, his plans are to continue learning under Jones while battling what will likely be 2 or 3 other quarterbacks for the backup role. But no other signal caller has the 6'6", 250-pound that allows Bell to be implemented into the "Belldozer" package, which uses the quarterback in a Wildcat-type formation. With the improvements in the Bishop Carroll graduate's throwing game, that package is likely to be altered this season.
"Even though we were using him almost exlusively in the 'Belldozer' package, with the strides that he's made, he's going to earn more opportunities with the football. And with that pacakage alone, there are more opportunities for us to throw the football down the field a lot more," said Heupel.
While most fans flocked to the football-related items on the auction block, Henson offered strong words of encouragement for basketball fans who watched the Sooners finish the conference season at 5-13 and 8th in the Big 12.
"We're always recruiting trying to improve our team and we feel like we had a great year last year in that regard. We've got some exciting kids coming in... We get to work with our guys this summer for the first time ever so that will allow us to add a new dimension for the basketball staff. And we're looking forward to mixing in our newcomers with our veterans," said Henson.