Imani Bell was able to enjoy Thanksgiving in every way.
The Archbishop Ryan High School senior is a two-sport athlete, and unlike a lot of wrestlers, he didn’t have to worry about what he ate on the holiday.
That’s a luxury about being a heavyweight wrestler who tips the scales around 250 pounds.
“I never have to worry about that, I’m looking to wrestle at about 270, so I didn’t have to cut anything,” said Bell, who has been All-Catholic two years in a row in wrestling. “Some of the guys don’t eat for days, they starve themselves to cut. I don’t know how they do that. I’m happy I don’t have to worry about that.
“I just have to worry about wrestling. It’s nice not to have to worry about that. Cutting weight is hard. But they do it for the team.”
Bell was able to enjoy all the turkey he wanted on Thanksgiving night, a few hours after he and his teammates feasted on Eagles.
Ryan bested George Washington 42-6 in the annual holiday rivalry game, avenging a loss the Raiders suffered in the last game that was played in 2019. The 2020 game was canceled because the Public League moved its football season to the spring due to the pandemic.
The Raiders suffered through a winless season last year, but this year went on to win six games, including a 4-3 record in the Catholic League Blue Division.
“The difference between this year and last year, it was astronomical,” said Bell, a two-way tackle who was named All-Catholic on offense. “It was like a complete, 180-degree, total turnaround. To be honest, I knew this year was going to be good because everyone showed up for workouts. Just about every senior on this team stepped up and played a key role. We really wanted to see improvement.”
Bell was happy with the success the team enjoyed, and believes it is the start of big things to come for Ryan football.
And the Washington game was the perfect way to send the seniors off with great memories of their days playing for the Raiders.
“We were looking at this game as fun, just a game where we could all go out, play our hardest and have fun,” said Bell, who recorded four tackles in the game. “And it was. We had so much fun. It’s a big game for everyone, but for the seniors, it was our last game together. I know I had a lot of fun.”
The entire season was fun for the Mayfair resident, and it started out when his dad, a former star at Cardinal Dougherty and Penn State who played the same position and shares the same name, joined the coaching staff. Due to scheduling, he couldn’t stay around long, but it was a great bonding experience for the boys.
“We worked together a lot before I started freshman year, I didn’t know anything about football, he tried to get me into shape and help me,” Bell recalled. “It was good to have him around, he definitely helped me get better.”
His other sport also helps him play football.
Bell considers himself a football player first, but over the last two seasons, he has become one of the top wrestlers in the Catholic League.
Just like he has in football, he’s come a long way in a short period of time. Bell became a varsity contributor in both sports when he was a sophomore.
“I actually started wrestling because one of the guys on the football team was wrestling and he asked me to join because they needed someone,” Bell remembers. “I wasn’t good at all at first. I wasn’t good, I was bad. I didn’t get pretty good until the end of the year. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I got better by working.
“This year, I think we could be really good. We have a lot of good wrestlers in our lineup. The goal is to win the championship. I want to do well, especially in the (Catholic League) meets because we can win. I think with our team, we can compete.”
Bell thinks this will be his final season wrestling, his future is on the gridiron, but he knows the work he puts in on the mat will help him when he gets to college.
“Wrestling helps me with football in a lot of ways,” Bell said. “First, it helps with my endurance, it helps so much with my endurance. You have to be in shape when you wrestle. And it helps with my hands. You have to use your hands a lot in wrestling, you have to get your hands on your opponent, and you have to get their hands off you. It helps a lot, and I think I’ll keep getting better the more I wrestle.”
Next year, Bell will focus on football. He’s unsure where he’ll end up, but he is leaning toward majoring in mechanical engineering.
“I’m not sure what I want to do, but I know I want to work with my hands, maybe work with cars or something,” Bell said. “I’m not too sure what I”ll be doing, that’s just what I like to do.
“I have heard from King’s (College), but I’m not sure where I’ll go. I definitely want to play football, though. I know that.”