WHAT: NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
WHERE: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Countless hours of training and competing have paid off for three Bulls that now get a shot at the ultimate goal.
USF juniors Courtney Anderson (high jump) and Kevin Bell (long jump), and freshman Matthew O’Neal (triple jump) will chase after national titles this week at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
The experience is extra special for Bell, who has thrived in his first full season of competing in the long jump after he mainly focused on sprints the past two seasons. Bell competes on Thursday and said he’s pumped up about performing on the big stage.
“It feels good to come out here and get to compete with all the best people in the country,” he said. “I’m ready to show everybody what I can do and I’m really feeling like I’m going to have a good meet.”
Bell punched his ticket to the NCAA preliminary round by posting a personal best mark of 25-0.5 at Big East Outdoors that helped him finish second behind teammate Neamen Wise.
“I’ve always been the type that when it’s a big stage I’m always trying to do my best. I was going into that meet hoping that I could set my personal best and to go out there and do it was really exciting,” Bell said. “I felt like I had accomplished a really big goal and I just wanted to come out here to Oregon and do even better.”
What makes Bell’s story extra special is his interesting path to becoming a long jump specialist. The Jacksonville native initially wanted to play basketball, had a lot of success in soccer and went on to earn four varsity letters in football and track and field at Mandarin High School. Just like the track, Bell shined in a number of roles on the football field as a cornerback, Wildcat quarterback, running back, slot receiver and returns specialist with 4.3-second 40-yard dash speed.
“Nobody really expected me to go to school for track,” Bell said. “Most people expected me to go to school for football but coach (Warren Bye) gave me a really good offer and it was something I could stay in Florida and do, so I went with that.”
Bell admitted the transition to becoming a long jump specialist has gone slowly in college but it’s been well worth the wait as he now gets the chance to leap at the highest level in his favorite event.
“I’m really glad that I’m here for the long jump. It’s an event I would say I enjoy the most now,” he said. “Since high school, I just have fun running down the runway, jumping and being in the air.”