D'Anthony Bell spent the first part of his Tuesday morning, the day he learned whether he'd be able to start his NFL dream in Cleveland, on the phone with his mom.
The time was 1 a.m., and Bell couldn't sleep. In a few more hours, he'd be expected back at CrossCountry Mortgage to hear the decision on whether his football journey as a safety would continue with the Browns. After playing for four different schools over his college career and spending time in between working for his dad and moving rocks for construction companies in Covington, Georgia, he signed with the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent in the spring — and he knew he had a chance to make the 53-man roster after a stellar preseason where he totaled seven tackles and forced two fumbles.
No night throughout the journey, though, felt longer than Monday.
"I didn't sleep too much, and neither did my mom," he said. "Both of us were on the verge of just praying and trying to hope for the best."
Bell's wishes were answered Tuesday when he was sitting at his locker and received a call from GM Andrew Berry to inform him he'd made it. Another big performance Saturday against the Bears — when he punched a ball loose for his second forced fumble of the preseason — further cemented his value.
No undrafted rookie free agent had cracked the 53-man roster since Berry was named GM in 2020, and Bell managed to become the first to do it in a deep secondary that already featured plenty of depth before his arrival.
From his first day of practice in the spring through those final early-morning hours on the phone with his mom, Bell always believed he could make the roster. He realized during training camp that he could play at the much faster pace of the NFL level, which is far different than that from Division II Albany State, Iowa Central Community College, Butler Community College or West Florida — each of the schools Bell played for.
He's the first player from both West Florida and his high school, Alcovy High School, to make it onto an NFL 53-man roster.
"For me and my family, we always believed in me, and I believed that I had a shot from the get-go," he said. "I believed in my talent and my preparation as a player so I felt like I had a good chance, and clearly I did."
Check out photos from practices and the preseason of each of the players who made the Browns' initial 53-man roster announced Tuesday
Bell, 25, was a construction worker and moved heavy rocks for his dad as they worked for various companies in Covington when he was away from football entirely in 2017 so he could work and pay for school. He didn't receive a scholarship until 2018 at Butler, and he received interest from LSU and Georgia, but his grades weren't good enough.
Bell still has the wheelbarrow he used to move the rocks for the jobs in the backyard of his house in Covington. It serves as a reminder for how far he's advanced his career.
"It's kind of like momentum now," he said. "It's kind of like, 'Dang, yeah, you ain't doing construction no more.'"
The Division II route kept his football dream alive, although the odds were slim that he'd ever be able to play with a team beyond the preseason. A standout training camp was needed for Bell to have any shot of sticking around not only in Cleveland, but the NFL.
He built that in Berea and backed the days up with big performances in each of the preseason games.
Two of Bell's seven total tackles also came on special teams, where he'll likely be needed most in the regular season. The Browns have five safeties on their roster with John Johnson III, Grant Delpit, Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Richard LeCounte III, so Bell will likely spend most of his time hunting down opposing returners.
If he's needed for normal defensive snaps, the Browns know what he can do.
"He's a very ball-aware player," head coach Kevin Stefanski said Saturday after the last preseason game. "He does that in practice. We chart every single one of those, the guys that rip and punch and try to get that ball out. He is always near the top."
Bell can sleep easy now — and he has money to spend on things besides college loans. His wish now is to use his first game check to treat his family, which is no surprise after his dad gave him employment and his mom helped him pray through the morning of the most important phone call of his football career.
"Everybody will get a nice steak or something," Bell said with a smile.
It's well-earned for his family, and well-earned for Bell.
The sleepless nights are over for now, but the job has only begun.
"I made it here, but that's not the end goal – to keep going and help this team get wins," he said. "Now let's be a part of the team and make plays."