No true freshman receiver at LSU had ever started the season opener until 2011.
The Tigers boast a collection of outstanding receivers throughout their school history. Eric Martin, Wendell Davis, Josh Reed, Michael Clayton, Dwyane Bowe and Buster Davis are a few names to remember, but none had accomplished what Odell Beckham Jr. did as a true freshman out of Isidore Newman School (New Orleans), lining up in the starting 11 in the first game of the season.
In the September 3, 2011 matchup against the Oregon Ducks in Arlington, Texas at Cowboys Stadium, Beckham took advantage of an opportunity.
"It was an unfortunate situation that (starter) Russell Shepard couldn't play; there was a spot open that needed to be filled," Beckham explained.
Shepard was suspended for NCAA violations, so the young wideout had to step up his young game. Odell displayed the maturity and veteran savvy beyond his years, making a contribution to LSU's 40-27 victory.
"It was pretty nerve racking," the now-sophomore recalls of the experience." We were in one of the best stadiums, two of the top five teams in the country. It was something I had always dreamed of."
The freshman wide receiver broke the ice early, allowing him to relax and find his comfort zone. He caught a bubble screen that produced a seven yard gain. The Tiger faithful hope that it is the first of many more to come for Beckham while wearing purple and gold. He tallied a pair of catches on the day. Two weeks later, he made eight grabs for 61 yards against Mississippi State to establish himself as more than a fill-in player.
Beckham finished his true freshman campaign with 41 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns (11.6 yards per grab).
A light came on early on during his first experience preseason drills, helping Odell realize success was within his reach.
"I knew coming in that I had the possibility to play. I got used to the speed, I understood things better and the game slowed down for me."
The stellar athlete is blessed with super genetics starting with a dad Odell, Sr. who was a tailback at LSU (1990-92).
Odell, Sr. teamed with former LSU and future NFL stars Todd Kinchen, Harvey Williams and Kevin Mawae, serving as the team's leading rusher (397 yards) in 1991. The elder Beckham also was a college roommate with basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.
As for young Odell's mom, Heather Van Norman, was a six-time All-American (1990-93) on the LSU women's track team, excelling in the 400-meter relay.
With athletic excellence in the bloodline comes high expectations.
"Coming from a family with an athletic background I dreamed that I would be doing this, " Beckham, Jr. said.
Despite the strong family ties to LSU, the recruiting process took some mental twists and turns. He considered over 20 solid offers. Odell liked the Oregon offense with its vaunted spread attack plus the school's infamous myriad of uniform combinations. USC's environment had its allure as well. The main draw for the Trojans was the way the young recruit saw himself fitting into the pro-style offense under head coach Lane Kiffin.
But the finalists were LSU and the Miami Hurricanes. Odell, an admitted 'Canes fan growing up, had a tough decision to make.
"Miami had great tradition with Sean Taylor, Willis McGahee and Ray Lewis, but both of my parents went to LSU. It seems that I was born to go there. It's where I could succeed the most."
Although he possessed the skills to excel on either side of the ball, he made it clear where he felt most comfortable.
"I like having the ball in my hands. I told (recruiters) I wanted to be a receiver." Beckham favors the styles of current Detroit Lions superstar Calvin Johnson as well as likely the greatest receiver ever, Jerry Rice.
The four-star recruit was impressed with LSU head coach Les Miles starting in the recreuiting process.
"He's a great coach, a good hearted coach that pushes us all," Beckham explained about Miles. "He wants to make us the best men we can be."
The in-home visit with Miles and Tigers recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson, along with the close relationship that he shared with former LSU receivers coach Billy Gonzales solidified his decision. The dismissal of Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon at 'The U' helped make the call an easier one.
Odell enjoyed a great deal of success at Isidore Newman as a multi-talented star on the gridiron. The three-time All-State performer during final two seasons totaled 95 catches for 1,753 yards and 29 scores. Beckham was also twice All-State on the hardwood.
"Basketball was my first love," he reflects, having averaged 10 points and 10 assists as a senior point guard. With a 40" vertical, Beckham is capable of performing a rim-rattling 360 windmill dunk. He additionally took tremendous pride as a lockdown hoops defender, drawing the gameday assignment responsibility of the opponent's top player.
But the future was always football for Odell, and his toughness and desire make success likely moving forward.
One true test of toughness and grit that is required of each LSU team member is to part take in the "Big Cat" drill, in which an offensive player and a defensive player are matched up in a one-on-one between the orange cones of the practice field in full visibility of their raucous teammates exhorting their comrades out-muscle his opponent. Beckham relishes the challenge.
"It's a nice drill, it's fun," he beamed. "It's good competition."
The usual opponent in this 'fun' collision for Odell is no ordinary foe. A national phenom, last fall's Bednarick award winner Tyrann Mathieu, is a more-than-capable combatant. Junior versus the Honey Badger is a feature bout that all anxiously anticipate. "It brings out the best in both of us, good competition. It's kill or be killed," said Beckham with an confident tone.
One year ago, Beckham had prepared himself for the opportunity to succeed on the college level by doing all of the little things. Nelson Stewart has been on the coaching staff at Newman since 2000, the last sven as the Greenies' head coach.
"(Odell) has God given talent. He's meticulous to detail, a once in a lifetime athlete. He loved the family atmosphere at LSU. He's unselfish. It's not about stats, it's more about team wins. He's so focused to succeed at the next level," Stewart continued. "He's a relentless worker. He thrives in the most competitive situation. He always plays his best in big games. He is the biggest competitor I have ever coached."
Beckham may have looked a bit thin in his first LSU appearances, but weight room work has already helped him add 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. "He's matured physically.. No one sets higher expectations for themselves than he does. He keeps priorities in order," Stewart noted.
Spending weekends during the hot, muggy days of summer fine tuning his skills,Beckham works under the watchful eye of Wyatt Harris at Sonic Boom Training Center, the same facility that tutored former LSU teammate Rueben Randle prior to the NFL Draft. Beckham, who has recorded a hand-held best 4.32 forty time feels that he is making strides under Harris.
"I've improved my skills everyday. The bad habits get fixed, you get bigger, stronger, faster," Beckham explained. "(Harris) touched up things that needed to be fixed. I continue to get better."
It appears Beckham has all of the attributes to continue to improve and to reach his vast potential.
"He stays humble and hungry. He's a shy, humble kid, but when he puts the helmet on, he becomes a different person. He stays close to his roots (family). He's a fierce competitor. I firmly believe that the best is yet to come," said Stewart.
LSU's returning leading receiver feels like he has much to be thankful for and is eager to help others better themselves, giving back. " That's the way I've been taught in life, giving back. God put us on earth; people look up to you. Enjoy the experience to be able to help others succeed." said Beckham, who is generous with his free time, assisting the younger athletes at Newman
The arrival of new starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger is one of great anticipation in Tigerland. Odell looks forward to what could be a major upgrade under center. "(Zach) is all-around better," he emphasized. "He's got an exceptional arm, an NFL-type arm. He puts it on the money. He's got it all, the difficult throws, the deep outs."
Beckham feels like he and Mettenberger fostered a familiarity with each otherduring the 2011 season that could produce dividends even though Mettenberger wasn't getting many game reps at practice. "I would go work with him. We always had a connection."
The New Orleans native is not shy about sharing his lofty goals, realizing that you have to aim high to attain championship results.
"I want to have an amazing season as a receiver. The ultimate goal is always to win the Biletnikoff Award," said Beckham. "We want to get back to the BCS and win it this time. I want 1,000 yards receiving and make game changing plays."
Only four players in the storied history of LSU football have ever exceeded 1,000 yards for a single season: Eric Martin, Michael Clayton, Wendell Davis and Josh Reed (twice).
Beckham is ready to be a star. I even asked him what television relaity show challenge would offer him the biggest chance for success.
"Dancing with the Stars," he responded with a broad smile. "I'm comfortable on the dance floor."
LSU fans hope that Odell Beckham, Jr. can translate those fleet feet, budding confidence and dynamic moves to help propel the Tigers back to another BCS title game. To do it, he would ironically have to go to Miami, where Sun Life Stadium hosts the national championship tilt this January.
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