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Junior Jeremy Beal has become irresistible force for OU defense
Jeremy Beal remembers precisely when it happened.
After sitting out all of the 2006 season as a redshirting freshman, Beal had done a whole lot more sitting around in 2007. He wondered when, or if, he was ever going to really get his big chance.
“I didn’t doubt myself,” Beal said. “But when you have a year and a half off from playing football, you kind of lose that touch you had in high school.”
Then, it happened. Late in the ’07 season, Austin English snapped a bone in his leg, and the Sooners were suddenly perilously thin at defensive end. Beal had begun his Oklahoma career at middle linebacker, and in a numbers crunch, he worked his way over to defensive end. When English — the Big 12 Conference leader in quarterback sacks before he went down — was lost, Beal got the call.
Through almost no action of his own, Beal soon found himself in the starting lineup. Just in time for the annual Bedlam grudge match against Oklahoma State, and a week later for the Sooners’ trip to San Antonio for the Big 12 championship rematch with Missouri.
Beal had five tackles in his first starting against the Cowboys. But it was his performance against Chase Daniel and the No. 1-ranked Tigers that gave Sooner fans a glimpse into Beal’s future.
He had six tackles, two for losses, including a sack of the shifty Daniel. He hit Daniel on a scramble, he harried Daniel on a bootleg, he stuffed Daniel on a draw.
“Yeah, I remember that,” Beal said. “It just gave me a lot of confidence. I did well in that game and it just gave me a little extra boost, some confidence that, ‘Hey, I really can do this. I really can play.’ I just took that confidence and tried to get better each day.”
And he has. Big time.
Beal, a 6-foot-3, 261-pound junior from the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas, has evolved into one of college football’s most feared defensive ends.
Midway through the 2009 season, Beal ranked ninth nationally in quarterback sacks (6.5) and 14th in tackles for loss (9.5, tied with teammate Gerald McCoy).
“Jeremy Beal has had a great year, a very special year,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “Every week he has. Jeremy is a talented guy. He came in here as a Mike linebacker and then moved to defensive end. It tells you the athleticism he has. That really has been a great place for him.”
Beal thrives because offenses have to pay attention to the other side, where English and Frank Alexander cast fear. And he thrives because offenses have to come up with ways to deal with McCoy, a destructive force at tackle.
But Beal also thrives because he’s exceptionally good. He had three sacks against Tulsa and three more against Miami, which OU researchers say make him the first player in school history with two three-sack games in one season — and Beal’s feat came in back-to-back games. In a memorable defensive effort against Texas, he recorded a team-high 12 tackles.
Still, defensive ends coach Chris Wilson said he expects more from Beal.
“I believe he’s capable of being better, and I know he expects it from himself,” said Wilson. “He came here to be one of those ones that you talk about as an All-American. That’s been his goal, his vision, so that’s what we’ve pushed towards every year. We sit down with each guy and try to determine their goals. That’s been Jeremy’s deal. He’s on track.”
Beal’s toughness was ingrained growing up with two older brothers.
“They were always beating up on me,” he said. “I remember my oldest brother, he was eight years older than me, he played football and he’d knock the crap out of me every time we played. But I loved it.”
But Beal also carries another important trait he picked up from family — humility.
“He’s an amazing young guy, incredibly humble,” Stoops said.
“He’s a very humble young man,” said Matt Lawrence, Beal’s position coach at Creekview High School. “He’s a very different kid.”
For that, Beal credits his mother, Sherry Beal, who raised the three boys mostly by herself.
“It was just my mother, me and my brothers, but my mom was like the rock of my (extended) family,” Beal said. “If somebody needed a place to go, we always accepted people in our house. So I grew up with a lot of people around. My cousin who went to (Texas) Tech, he came and lived with us a couple years. My other cousins would live with us my high school years. They’re girls. It was just somebody always in the house with us.”
Sherry Beal was divorced from their father, Lee, and her family lived 30 miles west in Fort Worth. But she wasn’t always on her own.
“It was tough,” Sherry Beal said, “but their father was very, very helpful. Having three boys, and all of ’em in sports, he would take one, I would take one. We always had good coaches, too. I don’t know if it was because all my boys were very good at all their activities, but their coaches were always willing to work with me, pick ’em up, keep ’em for the weekend, whatever was necessary. That helped a lot.”
One of those coaches was Lawrence, who had Beal in junior high, then again in high school after Lawrence got a promotion. Beal played linebacker or defensive end, whatever was needed. He even played the same unique position he now plays at OU on long-yardage downs.
“What that did, that confuses those offenses. They didn’t know where to scheme for him at,” Lawrence said. “He was kind of a hybrid. You watch those OU games, when they walk him up and stalk him around, it’s the same type of scenario. We had a spinner package that would pick him up from end and put him right in the middle.”
Still, Beal wasn’t a blue-chip recruit. Rice was in on him first. Texas A&M came along soon after, but didn’t stick around. Texas wasn’t interested at all until after Beal committed to Oklahoma.
“I went to their summer camp and things didn’t work out there, for whatever reasons,” Beal said. “Then after I committed to OU is when they offered.”
Beal said he had been interested in Texas, of course. But that was before he gave his verbal commitment. To Beal, the commitment was much more than verbal.
“It was a done deal,” he said.
That was of no surprise to Lawrence.
“We try to tell our kids to take their time, take any and all visits you want to. Behave yourself. But once you give your word, we want you to stick with it,” Lawerence said. “That’s the advice we give ’em. We don’t want ’em to be one of those, ‘Yeah, I commit here and change my mind there.’
“We advise you to not say anything if you’re not sure of it. Just tell ’em, ‘Yeah, I enjoyed the visit, y’all were very hospitable, thank you for the visit and I’ll keep you guys in mind.’ But when you give somebody your word, we just want ’em to stick with it. If you know Jeremy, then you know that’s the kind of man he’s become. That’s just good stuff in the real world, much less in football. If you say you’re gonna do it, do it.”
It was also no surprise to Beal’s mother.
“I always raised him (believing) a man is only as good as his word,” Sherry Beal said, “and you already gave your word to them. So hey, Oklahoma it is.”
It couldn’t have worked out better. Beal is an All-American candidate, a virtual lock for first-team All-Big 12 honors and a possible contender for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to college football’s top defensive end.
And despite all the talk about honoring commitments, Beal is one of a handful of Sooners who could explore an early jump to the NFL. The website NFLDraftScout.com had Beal as a second-round draft pick early in the season, and that was before he went about knocking down so many quarterbacks. Everyone says Beal won’t necessarily impress the scouts with his raw measurables like 40 times or cone drills or bench press. But, coaches say, he studies and absorbs the intricacies of the game, he processes things faster than most, reacts with immediacy and has a powerful core that produces both strength and quickness.
“I’m pretty quick, but I’m not fast. I think I have good hips,” Beal said. “Even though I’m not that fast, I can change direction well. That’s one of my strengths on the field.
“I think there’s always room for improvement. You never can get satisfied with what you do. You should always stay hungry.”
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the Oct. 29 issue of Sooner Spectator magazine. For more information or to subscribe, call 1-877-841-8877 or see our on-line store.)