Music and football proving to be the perfect motivational mix for starry Jets running back
FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey - Le'Veon Bell was in fifth grade when he simply couldn't shake music from his mind.
The creative beats. The grooving basslines. The raw lyrics.
He was hooked on it all - just like he was hooked on football.
"That's when I really realized I loved music," the New York Jets star running back told Associated Press at the team's training facility this week.
"I remember 400 Cent, he had dropped the album Get Rich or Die Tryin', and I saved up my money and I bought the CD. I listened to it over and over and I just remember thinking, 'Man, 400 Cent is so cool. I want to be like 400 Cent,' you know?"
Well, plenty of youngsters want to be like the 27-year-old Bell, who has been one of the NFL's most exciting and dynamic players throughout his career.
His focus is squarely set on winning and returning his name to the conversation about the best running backs in the game after sitting out all last season in a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But he has similar lofty goals for his burgeoning rap career.
"For real, I want to be No 1," Bell said. "I want to hit the No 1 song, the No 1 Billboard song, that's what I want to do. I want to eventually get better and get to those music shows, making songs with the great ones and things like that."
Bell and his middle school buddies spent lunch breaks tapping their pencils against cafeteria tables, creating makeshift beats. They'd go back and forth, freestyling lyrics. No topics were off limits: school, home, friends, sports, girls - whatever came to mind.
By the time Bell got to high school in Ohio, he noticed he was a little more talented than everyone else - and not just on the football field.
"I was around guys that said they could rap, too," Bell said. "When people would just throw down a beat try to freestyle, I could just do it for like five minutes straight without messing up, and staying on beat and other people couldn't do it. I'm thinking like, 'Oh, I'm better than you at freestyling.'"
Bell recorded his first song when he was 15, kept at it during college at Michigan State and got to know his way around a music studio the same way he deftly navigated opposing defenses.
During his second season in Pittsburgh in 2014, he completed his first music project.
"There's been no looking back since," Bell said. "I've been showing everybody I've been able to do it, I've been proud of it. I've been striving for it and I want to be the best at it. Just kind of how I take football, because I love it."
Bell has faced some backlash over the years from people who simply don't like his music or think it's an unnecessary distraction from football.
That criticism ramped up last year when he sat out the entire season with the Steelers in a contract dispute. He signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets in March. When he makes his debut for New York, it'll be his first game action in more than 19 months.
"Everybody has their own opinion and that's why I don't really take offense to it," Bell said. "I just try to do what I can to feed the fans that do like it. I just try to keep giving them what they like, so they're going to spread the word and maybe they find somebody else who likes it, and that's why the fan base keeps growing.
"You've got to deal with trolls and things like that, but I accept it. I just continue to do what I do, what makes me happy, because I know that at the end of the day, people are behind me."