The Falcons’ first draft pick of the Dan Quinn era is not just your average quarterback-sacking, backboard-smashing, record-setting, Jon Gruden-vexing slightly light in the trunk defensive mutant.
No, there’s something even more a little more unusual about Vic Beasley.
“He’s so different — in a good way,” said his college roommate, Nick Yarid.
“He walks his own path,” said his college coach, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
So long as that path wends its way regularly to an opposing quarterback — let’s say Beasley makes good on his claim that he will be a double-digit sack guy in an NFL season — the Falcons will be more than happy.
That Beasley was an exceptional athlete seemed clear enough early, back at Adairsville High. On the court, he was an athletic director’s nightmare, shattering not one, but two backboards while doing with a basketball what would take a vandal a ladder and a sledgehammer to accomplish.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Beasley remembered Friday with a smile, “(The rims) must have been loose or something. Man, I was just trying to flush with authority. Dominique Wilkins-type stuff, bring the house down.
“They told me to stop dunking.”
No equipment was harmed in the making of his high school football career. He was the two-way star, better known as a running back than a linebacker. Good things usually happened when he touched the football. On his only kickoff return, Beasley went 80 yards for a touchdown.
The question at Clemson was exactly how to employ such a physical package. Through redshirt and redshirt freshman seasons he was bounced between tight end and linebacker, sniffing the field only as a special-teamer. Not the happiest time. “You become discouraged over the course of time and wonder if things are going to work out for you,” Beasley said.
As he approached his sophomore season, he came to the intersection of Lost and Found. The coaches suggested defensive end. Build up your body a little. Unleash your quickness on some unsuspecting tackle. A bargain was struck: Try it for a season, and if you don’t like it, we’ll let you finish out for better or worse as a running back.
The first sack of the rest of his life came against his father’s former team — Victor was a defensive back at Auburn — inside the house of his favorite professional team, the Georgia Dome. He fought his way past Greg Robinson (an eventual No. 2 NFL draft pick) to record a big fourth-quarter sack in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.
“That set it off for me, that was when I knew I could skyrocket as a pass-rusher,” Beasley said. He led the team that year with eight sacks in spot duty.
That season convinced him to put aside the childish dreams of running the ball. “I’d rather be the hitter than the hittee,” he said.
Not long thereafter, as an inspirational device, Beasley’s roommate began gathering photos of each of his sacks, framing them and hanging them in his buddy’s room. The Wall of Sacks grew to school-record proportions, his career 33 comfortably eclipsing the old Clemson record of 28.
Here’s where the unusual stuff about Beasley begins showing itself. Most high-profile college football players live a fairly cloistered life, preferring the company of their own kind off campus. Beasley roomed with one of the Tigers’ equipment managers, Yarid, and another friend who just watched games from the stands. Just chatting before practices, Beasley and Yarid found they had a lot in common — both a love of gaming and a strong connection to the church. When a spot came open at Yarid’s apartment, he asked the big guy if he wanted it. Yeah, sure, Beasley said.
“He’s just a down-to-earth, friendly guy,” Yarid said.
“A quiet, unassuming guy; you would never in a million years guess he was the guy out there smashing quarterbacks,” Swinney said. In fact, Beasley has conducted his introductory news conferences with the Falcons as if they were all staged in a library.
An uncommon athlete has shown other quite common, well-grounded traits.
The piano at his home in Adairsville wasn’t just for decoration. Replaying the gospel tunes he heard in church, Beasley taught himself to play by ear. Good enough that his public debut came as a teenager before the congregation. “I’m no Beethoven or Mozart; I just play for fun,” he said.
Staying for his senior season was an excruciating choice, one he didn’t make until the last possible moment. In the end, it proved Beasley’s capacity for good decision-making. The youngest of seven children, Beasley became the first in his family to get a college degree (sociology). Staying also meant he was able to significantly improve his draft status, having been projected an early second-rounder after his junior year. And by staying, look who drafted him, the hometown team, the one he always told people he wanted to play for one day.
Just as he tells people that after a long and fruitful career with the Falcons, he wants to go off in another very different direction, to dental school.
It wasn’t Beasley’s potential for performing a clean root canal that the fellows on the ESPN set were discussing after the Falcons took him with the eighth pick Thursday night.
Both the guy with the crazy eyes, Gruden, and the guy with the hair, Mel Kiper, were casting Beasley as a one-dimensional pass-rushing specialist. Certainly, the Falcons need that dimension, like Sonny used to need Cher. But, the experts wondered, where will this 240-pound specialist fit against the run (and here roll a couple of clips to show him being pushed around)?
His answer will be years in the making.
In the meantime, for more heartening words, lean on someone who has had years to grow familiar with Beasley’s work.
“No question he has to improve fundamentally because he’s still learning the position,” Swinney said. “But he is committed to being an every-down player and a run-stopper. This kid is powerful and explosive. Even though he’s only 245 pounds, he plays like he’s 275.
“That’s what people are going to find out. It won’t take long, they won’t be talking about that anymore.”
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