By Kevin Eickman
Jed Bell, a 2007 Milford High School graduate, has been on a rapid ascent coaching football in Delaware. In his first season as a head coach in 2019, Bell took a team facing a ton of adversity to the State D-II title game. While the Woodbridge Blue Raiders came up agonizingly short in the game, the season should only be viewed as a success for the young leader. “Of course, you want to win the championship, that is always the goal,” Bell said. “We may have come up a bit short, but my guys left it all on the field. There’s nothing more I could have asked of them.”
Following graduation from Milford, Bell headed off to Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. Like a great many students leaving home for the first time, Bell was not exactly focused. “I really wasn’t where I wanted to be academically and it was basically my fault,” Bell said. “I took stock of where I wanted to be and realized I needed to change. Not just where I was going to school, but more importantly how I was applying myself.”
Transferring to Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, Bell became a focused student. Graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education, Bell would further his education as he has gone on to earn a master’s degree in School Leadership. For the present time, the plan is to remain out of the administrative side of the school system for one key reason. “Once you head down the administrative path, you are pretty much done with coaching,” Bell said. “Right now, I really enjoy being on the sidelines, so that is my current plan. I have also learned to never say never.”
Following graduation, Bell took a job in the Woodbridge School District for two years. Deciding that he might enjoy a return to his roots, he took a job at Milford in 2014. During that time, he was an assistant coach on the baseball team. While enjoying his time at Milford, Bell longed for the relationships he had forged at Woodbridge. “I was a little surprised about how much I missed the friends I had made over at Woodbridge,” he said. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to be there. It really surprised me how much those first two years at Woodbridge impacted me.”
Upon his return to Woodbridge, Bell became part of the football coaching staff. Under the leadership of Head Coach Ed Manlove, Bell would learn a great deal about football and life. “Coaching for Ed was fantastic. My first year I was assigned as defensive line and quarterbacks coach,” Bell said. “While I knew how to play the line, I really didn’t know much about coaching quarterbacks. Manlove had me study up and said he would help me. The first practice of two-a-days, he watched me and afterwards he told me I had it and walked away. Just like that he put his trust in me after just one practice.”
Slowly but surely the often-downtrodden Woodbridge squad began to improve and in what seemed like a blink of an eye the Blue Raiders had become a D-II power. Woodbridge has made the playoffs every year since 2015, earning state titles in 2016 and 2018. During that time, Bell worked his way up to defensive coordinator. “Ed really believed in delegating and always stood true to it. Don’t get me wrong, he had input, but it was your show,” Bell said. “That really inspires confidence in a coaching staff. With each game we played, our confidence, but more importantly, the players’ confidence grew.”
Following the 2018 season, Manlove would step down from the helm of Woodbridge, heading off to retirement. The selection of Bell as his successor may have raised a few eyebrows outside the program, but the decision looks sound as Woodbridge made it to the D-II finals in Bell’s initial season, falling to Howard in a tough 16-15 defeat. The loss was a disappointing end to a difficult season.
Projected senior quarterback Troy Haynes was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer prior to the season. It would be an event that would bring a close team even closer together, it would also teach them that there was much more to life and how precious it is. “You have to remember, most of the players grew up with Troy, they weren’t just friends, they were brothers,” Bell said. “What happened this season on the field was quite insignificant in regard to the battle Troy was facing.”
While Haynes would eventually lose his battle with his illness, it wasn’t until he made one final play on the field, he called home. On June 2, 2019, Haynes graduated from Woodbridge. He was being pushed in a wheelchair by Bell when Haynes called an audible and decided to walk up to receive his diploma. With Bell by his side, Haynes accepted his diploma as the entire stadium roared in support and recognition. “It was a very humbling moment for me, in contrast to the accomplishment it was for him,” Bell said. “I had taken my graduation for granted so many years ago and here is this young man staring death in the eye and battling on. It really made me reflect on how precious every moment we have is.”
Reflecting on his reasons for coaching, at the top of the list is the impact he can have on the lives of young men. “It’s all about education. I think we have about 20 guys playing college football from FBS down to D-III,” Bell said. “For a lot of these guys, they are the first in their family to go to college. That is something you can’t put a price on, it truly is a blessing to watch them and see what they are accomplishing.”
During his playing days at Milford, Bell was a quality tight end who helped the Bucs develop a powerful running game. “All you had to do was show him and he could do it. He could really set the edge and open holes in the running game,” former Bucs coach Jack Simon said. “He could also be a big target as a receiver, he was a real difference maker.”
Following up with former Milford Head Coach Mike Tkach, who made it clear that he is thrilled with what Bell has accomplished. “I had the chance to coach with him up at the Blue-Gold game last year, what a thrill,” Tkach said. “When you see someone you coached come full circle and give back, it can’t help but make you proud of him.”
Bell is married to his wife Elise and has two daughters, Peyton who is four years old and Logan who will be three in June.