For some people, the idea of uprooting their life and relocating to the other side of the world might sound daunting.
Tarrence Bell, 25, a coach for the Bendigo Dragons, found the decision easy.
In March, Bell was recruited by Bendigo’s American football team, to be both a player and a defensive coach.
Bell decided to pack his bags and accept the Dragons’ offer. The combination of gun violence and wanting to further his football career were driving factors in Bell’s decision to leave Chicago for Australia.
“Growing up in Chicago was nice, but as of recent years it has grown to be very violent, almost like a war zone,” he told upstart.
“I would probably say from the time I was 15 until now; I have lost about 20 friends from gun violence.”
Fortunately for Bell, he was surrounded with positive role models during his youth who helped him avoid the temptation to get involved with the wrong crowd in his community.
“My football coaches and teammates helped me stay away from that stuff, so football helped me stay on the right path,” he said.
“It pretty much kept me off the streets, always gave me something to do, kept me motivated to get out of that situation.”
Bell’s youth football coaches inspired him to follow their lead.
Like his former mentors, he wanted to be in a position where he could give back to communities and make a difference in young people’s lives.
“That’s my passion…I love coaching kids and being a mentor to so many young men who need more positive influences in their lives,” Bell said.
“Just being there for those guys and teaching them football to get the best potential out of them at an early age.”
He quickly moved up the football coaching ranks, securing a coaching position as a defensive coordinator at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills, Illinois, just outside Chicago.
Now, Bell is ready to take on his latest football challenge – helping his new team clinch a playoff spot for the upcoming 2018 season.
The 25-year-old brings a wealth of knowledge and international experience to Bendigo. His arrival comes at a time when American football is starting to become more popular in Australia, especially within the state of Victoria. The state’s governing body, Gridiron Victoria, has 12 men’s and six women’s teams enrolled for the new season.
Bell was surprised by how much Australia has embraced the sport.
“The football culture over here [in Australia] is a lot different and it’s growing. I would say back home football is more intense and more serious,” he said.
Before moving to Bendigo, Bell earned a college scholarship and an impressive three-year college football career at Mayville State and North Dakota, playing as a defensive end or linebacker. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management.
Even though he has not played a competitive game since college, Bell was pleased to have the pads on again and to be back playing on the practice field.
“I played my last down in college four years ago,” he said.
“Having the opportunity to go play again has been amazing.
“It has lit a fire under me.”
Last season the Dragons finished fifth on the ladder, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. They could not stop their opponents from scoring against them, conceding 194 points over the 10-game regular season.
However, Bendigo’s new player-coach was happy with the adjustments his team had made in the pre-season, leaving him feeling optimistic that they could make a serious challenge for the Division II title this season.
“We have changed the defensive and offensive schemes to try and get the players in the best position to be successful on the field this year,” he said.
“I believe that we will make a good push this year in Division II…and hopefully win the whole thing.”
Despite only moving to Australia three months ago, Bell has settled in nicely to his new life in Bendigo.
“It is definitely a safer environment here [Bendigo],” Bell said.
“I am yet to hear a gunshot or a siren here, so that’s a good sign about this community.”
James Hurley is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communication (Sport Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @jameshurley_
Cover photo: provided by Tarrence Bell