By Denise Spann, Florida MileSplit Correspondent
2021 is the year of the 200-meter.
We've seen the high school national record be broken in the event, and two Florida athletes run sub-21 indoor and outdoor.
Terry Parker's Aaron Bell looks to be next up to join the exclusive 20-point club this year. In his outdoor 200m debut, the senior ran 21.08 for a new personal best, US No. 2 and No. 5 effort in state history.
Earlier this year, Bell solidified his collegiate future with a commitment to the University of Houston. The senior chose the Cougars over other sprint powerhouses like Texas, LSU and Baylor.
"[Signing to Houston] is a childhood dream that's come true," he said. "It means everything to me. It's knowing that the sacrifice and hard work that I've done, things that my parents and coaches have put me and helped me through, the ups and downs - it's all been worth it. It's an amazing feeling."
Coincidentally, Bell's recruiting process with Houston truly began after his elite performances at last year's Carl Lewis Invitational.
The senior won the 60m in 6.72 for a new PR, US No. 2 and climbed the ranks into Florida's top-five all-time performances. He also placed third in the 200m (21.53) for US No. 12 and FL No. 8 all-time.
"From the moment I stepped off the plane it just felt like home, it felt like the perfect place for me," Bell said. "After I raced, I was able to talk to the coaches, Carl Lewis and everyone else on the team. I just felt like it would be the perfect fit for me, the surroundings, I just felt like I know when I come here, I'll be accepted."
Lewis is a legend in this sport, with nine Olympic gold medals and 10 World Championship medals to his name. For Bell, receiving training and guidance from one of his sprinting idols is a feeling hard to describe.
"It's an amazing feeling to know I can go from a great high school coach to an even more amazing college coach," Bell said. "Knowing that [Lewis] has been to the level that I want to be able to go to, he held records that I want to be able to hold one day and has the overall feeling of what it is to be the top dog around the world. [It shows me] that I have the ability and type of coaching to get to that level."
Since becoming a coaching duo in 2014, head coach Leroy Burrell and Lewis have returned Houston's male sprint's program to stardom with entertaining relay rivalries, back-to-back 4x100m national titles and consecutive third-place team finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships (2018 and 2019).
"I'm going into a program that I know I can trust the process no matter what type of training it will be," the sprinter said. "They have my back no matter what. Seeing the previous success, it's great training and I know [the performances] are the outcome of it."
With the graduation of many of the athletes that put the Cougars back on the map, Bell, as the only sprinter in Houston's 2021 recruiting class, has some big shoes to fill.
A challenge Bell believes he's ready for.
"It's never really a nervous thing, it's more of trusting in what I can do and knowing how far my ability has gotten me to this point," the senior said. "There's never a time to look back and say, oh I'm scared of this or nervous about this. It's all about going full aggression and wishing for the best."
If the sprinter's recent 200m effort is any indication of the season ahead, then his remaining PRs of 10.51 in the 100m (10.44 all-conditions) and 48. 22 in the 400m are in danger.
However, In his final outdoor campaign, Bell isn't putting any limitations on his upcoming efforts. For him, it's all about trusting and executing his abilities.
"I'm getting ready to leave in a couple of months, so I don't have to turn this into a got to do this, got to do that," he explained. "It's more of, we know I work hard, I train well, and I know my abilities got me this far. Why get to the point of being stressed in my last season? ... Me knowing me, how I am as an athlete and person, by executing the race the times will come. That's one thing I always run by and live by."
In the end, Bell wants to be remembered as the kid who recognized his talent, buckled down and worked hard to reach a respectable result.
"I want to be known as that kid that's going to show up and show out when it counts most," he said. "For people to say he's always consistent and never a one-hit-wonder... A race is never over with if you're in it with him."