Much like football, faith came easy for the Falcons’ Vic Beasley.
Whether it was faith in God, his coaches or himself, Beasley’s conviction helped him become the football player — and the man — he always wanted to become.
“Growing up in the church and having a pastor and my parents just encouraging me and wanting me to do the right things — I always had it in the back of my mind,” Beasley says.
That trust paid off, as Beasley became one of the premier edge rushers in college football and was drafted eighth overall in 2015 .
And now, as Beasley embarks on his second season in the NFL, he’s trusting his coaches once more. Originally drafted as a defensive end/edge rusher out of Clemson, the Falcons asked Beasley to switch to linebacker for the 2016-17 season, a position he played sparingly in high school and college.
Including Beasley’s most recent move, that makes seven position changes since his freshman year of high school. But Beasley took them all in stride, including a shift from tight end to linebacker to defensive end in his first two years at Clemson. Those moves, he says, have him more excited than concerned about this shift to linebacker.
“Having that experience of being moved from one position to the other makes me acceptable to what the coaches are trying to do now,” Beasley says. “I have trust in my coaches because I know my coaches want what’s best for me.”
Faith in God
Beasley’s conviction didn’t materialize overnight, but it was something he learned at an early age.
At Bethlehem Judea House of God in Adairsville, 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, Beasley grew up listening to his Uncle John preach about character, leadership and humility. While his uncle taught him in church, his parents, Teresa and Victor Sr., taught him about determination, heart and integrity.
“The way I was raised — not to boast anything, not to exalt myself — my parents and my pastor, they just helped instill that character in me,” Beasley says. “And character can take you a long way.”
But with the speed of a wide receiver, the power of a running back and the frame of a linebacker, Beasley never fit into any one position. So he began his journey as a defensive back and wide receiver his freshman year. As a sophomore, he played safety and running back. It wasn’t until his junior year that he settled on running back and linebacker.
That body type, combined with his impressive speed, strength, and intellect — Beasley graduated high school at 17 — made him an intriguing recruit. Beasley finally settled on Clemson, a place where he felt at home but soon became a man without a position.
Faith in coaches
Recruited as an “athlete,” Beasley came to Clemson as a tight end, but his coaches weren’t sold on him for that position. Coach Dabo Swinney redshirted Beasley his freshman year and wasn’t sure where he could fit him on the team.
“Here I’m sitting looking at this guy, and this guy is the top two or three athletes on our team,” Swinney says. “He really wanted to play running back, but I just didn’t see him as a running back. So I moved him to linebacker (during his redshirt year).”
Beasley trusted Swinney with the switch to defense, even though he still preferred offense. But as a linebacker, Beasley fell on the depth chart, his reps at practice saw a steep decline and he even started questioning if Clemson was the right school for him.
“I remember thinking, ‘Is this really the place where God called me to be? Should I have gone somewhere else?’ ”
Soon after defensive line coach Marion Hobby approached Beasley with the idea to switch him from linebacker to defensive end, a position he had never played before.
“Do you think I can be any good at it?” Beasley asked Hobby.
“I think you can be exceptional at it,” Hobby said.
Beasley wasn’t totally sold on yet another position change, especially to a position he’d never played before. To sweeten the deal, Swinney offered to switch Beasley to running back for his junior and senior year if he tried defensive line for one year and didn’t like it.
Beasley slept on it, and two days later he accepted it.
Hobby’s first mission as Beasley’s coach was to completely rewire the way he thought about football. Beasley needed to learn the proper stances, how to play the six- or five-technique, react to the ball movement, reading keys, taking angles, recognizing formations. Everything.
“It was basically Football 101 from the beginning,” Hobby says. “It was a process that I knew was going to take some time.”
Hobby didn’t have to teach Beasley everything, though. Some things came naturally: The strength he worked on in high school, the speed he’d been known for as a running back, the quick-twitch agility only a few athletes truly possessed. Those were already there.
“He was like a flower that needed water,” Hobby said.
And in his first game as a defensive end against Auburn on Sept. 1, 2013, the new-and-improved Vic Beasley burst onto the scene.
On 3rd-and-8, an over-matched Beasley wrestled his way past All-SEC lineman Greg Robinson and leapt onto the back of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier with 25 seconds left for the game-sealing sack.
That moment, that sack, is when Beasley saw the light.
Faith in himself
Beasley practiced harder, studied longer and prepared like a man on a mission heading into his junior season. After only four games, Beasley matched his sophomore sack total. By season’s end, Beasley recorded 13 sacks, leading the team in that category for the second straight year.
But with all the success came whispers of Beasley leaving Clemson early for the 2014 NFL Draft. Projected as a late first-, early second-round pick, Beasley considered foregoing his senior year for the NFL and a big paycheck.
“My family’s financial situation wasn’t the best at the time,” Beasley says, “I knew I wanted to get my degree, and my mom, my dad, they all wanted me to too. I was in the middle of the seesaw and didn’t know which way to go.”
Early in the afternoon of Jan. 15, 2014, hours before he was supposed to make his final decision, Beasley called Swinney and told him he was leaving for the draft. Even Hobby thought Beasley was NFL-bound.
“But I prayed about it… and I knew really deep down in my heart that I wanted to get my degree,” Beasley says. “I wanted to come back.”
Beasley ignored the inherent risk of getting injured his senior year and instead trusted himself to improve his draft stock and become the first member of his family to graduate college.
And his decision was rewarded, as Beasley not only broke the Clemson career sack record with 33 during his senior season, he also shot up the draft boards before being selected by his hometown Falcons in the first round on April 30th, 2015.
“That’s just faith, man,” Beasley said. “You just gotta have faith that it’ll work out. You just make decisions and you don’t second-guess. Once you make that decision you just go with it and just continue to have your faith.”
Beasley’s faith led him back home to Georgia, where he went on to break the Falcons’ rookie record with four sacks, including a pivotal game-sealing sack against the previously-undefeated Carolina Panthers.
“They say when one door closes and another one opens, and I feel like another door just opened for me and another opportunity to elevate my game and take my game to another level,” he said.
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