Sept. 10, 2003
by Jonathan Palay
Berkeley, Calif. - As one of the few returning seniors on the 2003 Bears squad, excuse Josh Beckham if he is savoring every moment of his final Cal season a little more than the next guy. This is a player who has seen it all. From Cal's disastrous 2001 season to last year's rebound campaign, Beckham knows full well the ups and downs of football, which have made his collegiate playing career a veritable roller-coaster ride.
It is difficult to pinpoint what intangibles head coach Jeff Tedford has added to these Bears in slowing down the roller-coaster, but one thing that stands out is self-belief: a quality Josh Beckham has in spades. And Beckham's confidence must rub off on his less-experienced teammates for the defense to perform at a high level.
"We have a lot of new faces because a lot of seniors left last year," said Beckham. "But since Tedford's arrival, there has been a change in attitude and expectations. We expect to do well, whether we are young or not. Who's to say we can't do well?"
Tough to argue with that kind of conviction. In fact, if Beckham had any nagging doubts, he probably would not be starting. At six feet two inches and 270 pounds, many pundits consider Beckham undersized for his defensive tackle position. His technique, though, is the key to overcoming any disadvantages he may face on the field.
"I have to play real low, so my height plays to my advantage," said Beckham. "That way I can stay under the offensive linemen, which gives me better pad control. As long as I continue to run the whole time and come off the ball and strike, I'll be fine."
He came off the ball just fine last season. Appearing in all 12 games and starting in six of them, Beckham reeled off 18 tackles-11 of which where unassisted-and recorded three sacks. With a defense bloated with veterans last season, Beckham did not worry about experience. But even in his new role, he doesn't worry about it this season, either.
"I've played for the last three years so I know what to expect," Beckham said. "We do have some guys returning that have played, even though they might have less game experience. With these young guys, we think of it not as rebuilding but reloading. The younger guys can step up, and I'll be there to help with the little things if necessary."
Self-belief is no little thing, even though it doesn't show up in 40 times or workouts. That belief was critical for Beckham, who came back from off-season surgery. Four years removed from the slipped disk in his back that required surgery and ended his freshman year on the field, Beckham again required shoulder surgery this off-season. His recovery has been a success. Not even appendicitis could keep him away from training camp for long this year, when it unexpectedly struck him during camp.
"I feel good," said Beckham. "I am finally back to normal and ready for the season. It was frustrating at the beginning of camp when I had appendicitis. I was only in the hospital for a day, though, and was able to come to camp after that. The surgery was just something I had to take care of and now it's done with."
With his rehabilitation complete, Beckham is now eyeing his last season under the Saturday afternoon spotlight. He will not regret the effort it took to overcome two surgeries during his collegiate career or enduring the roller-coaster ride each season ultimately brings.
After all he's seen over his five years at Cal, there is one more goal pending on his list. And he's not bashful in revealing that goal.
"Playing in a bowl game," Beckham responded. "Opening in the kickoff classic was awesome and the closest thing to a bowl game atmosphere that we've seen."
There is one difference though. While the kickoff classic may have been a reward for Cal's play last season, a bowl game would reward this season's achievements. Beckham is not ready to get off this roller-coaster just yet.