April 3, 2012

Bell and Fisher share a McCartney connection

When receivers coach Rich Fisher is holding meetings or just talking with his position group, he commonly sees Kenny Bell nodding his head in unison.

It's been that way since Fisher was hired a year ago to replace Ted Gilmore. He and Bell are usually on the same page, which played a big role in Bell becoming the Huskers' leading receiver as a redshirt freshman last season.

They have Bill McCartney to thank for that.

Fisher was an outside linebacker in the late 1980s and early 1990s at Colorado and learned his craft under McCartney. He was part of the Buffaloes' title team in 1990.

After several stops as an assistant coach and a stint of owning and operating a football camp in New England, Fisher was hired to coach the Nebraska receivers last year. He inherited a speedster coming off his redshirt year after a standout career at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo.

Bell's coach at Fairview? None other than Tom McCartney, Bill's son.

"Coach Fish brings the same thing every day, and that's attitude and effort," Bell said. "That's something that Coach Mac instilled in him in college. And his son, Tom McCartney, taught me the same thing. I'd say as far as what we believe in and our values in life, we're absolutely the same. The quotes and everything that inspires us in football, we see eye-to-eye on."

It didn't take Fisher long to recognize the same connection.

"When I talk about my experiences as a player under a coach like Bill McCartney, he can relate because he's played for his son, and I'm sure his son was influenced," Fisher said. "He's heard and is probably continuing to hear the same things he's heard for a majority of his adult life."

That continuity and similarity in philosophies paid off for Bell last season. He led the Huskers with 32 catches, 461 yards and three touchdowns. He improved greatly as the season went on, as two of his scoring catches and both of his career-high five-catch performances came in the last five games.

But he admits he wasn't always the most reliable target for quarterback Taylor Martinez. Like the rest of the receiving corps, Bell had his battles with dropped passes, but he's worked hard to improve that this season. He's spent extra time catching the ball with quarterbacks and the jugs machine. Sometimes he just throws the ball off the wall and catches it himself.

"I'm trying to eliminate those drops," Bell said. "Nobody wants to be known for drops."

Fisher has seen Bell improve his catching, but said maybe his biggest growth has been in his leadership. With senior leader Brandon Kinnie gone, Fisher said Bell and junior Quincy Enunwa have stepped into the leadership roles for a very young group of receivers.

"Leadership can be defined a bunch of different ways," Fisher said. "Some guys are vocal when it comes to leadership. Kenny's always kind of a vocal guy. He's a free-spirited kid. He's a breath of fresh air.

"He doesn't lack any confidence. It doesn't matter who he's lining up against. You could be the best corner in America and he feels like he can run by you. In that aspect, you can't ask for anything else."

Bell will get the chances to prove his ability this season. Unlike last fall when he came in as a speedy wild card, Bell will enter the 2012 campaign as one of Martinez's favorite targets and is likely to again challenge to lead the Huskers in receiving.

When asked about his quick ascent, Bell goes back to his tutelage under Tom McCartney and the glaring similarities it has to what Fisher went under with Bill. The two approach football with the same mindset and it has made life easy less complicated for them both.

"It makes everything easier," Bell said. "It makes communication No. 1, and that's the best thing a coach and a player can have. Communication is vital."

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