Nov. 6, 2002
In football, some players make headlines. Whether they throw a long touchdown pass or pick off a game-saving interception, they are the one fans see as the stars.
Then there are those players who hold the team together in the trenches, where recognition is hard to come by and public accolades are few and far between.
Count Josh Beckham among those in the second group.
A junior defensive tackle for the Bears, Beckham doesn't always stand out on the field. At 6-2, 280 pounds, he's even small for his position. But that hasn't stopped him from being one of the key elements to Cal's remarkable turnaround this season.
Rock-solid steady may be the best way to describe Beckham. So far in 2002, he has amassed 16 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks - solid numbers but nothing that grabs much attention. Once in a while, however, he stands out from the pack. Against New Mexico State, he forced a fumble to set up a touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-3 halftime lead, while his sack of Washington quarterback Cody Pickett one play after a Cal safety helped turn the momentum back in the Bears' favor.
"The new faces, different coaches, different attitudes have all helped us and made it fun," Beckham said. "Everyone is enjoying it. Our coaches don't want us to worry about making mistakes. They want us to go out and just play loose, play fast, play hard, and do what we know how to do. The new coaches are all positive. It's awesome. Everything is positive."
Coaches don't provide the only support Beckham receives on the gridiron. His parents, Mark and Kathleen, haven't missed a game since his arrival in Berkeley. And credit his father for instilling much of the work ethic that Beckham brings to the field. Mark Beckham played college ball at both the University of Texas and at Cal Lutheran. Since 1990, he has been head coach at Yucca Valley High School, mentoring his son all four years as a prep.
"My dad definitely helped me grow as a player," said Beckham, who joined the Yucca Valley varsity with five games left in his freshman season. "He was harder on me than anyone else on the team because he wanted to make sure there was no favoritism towards the coach's kid. And he made sure that everyone on the team knew that I was playing because I deserved to be playing, not because I was the coach's kid. It pushed me a lot as a player."
The result was Beckham becoming the first player ever from Yucca Valley to sign a National Letter of Intent with a Division I-A school.
Unfortunately, Beckham suffered a harsh setback to his career just after he suited up for the Bears in 1999. In the opening weeks of training camp, he was diagnosed with a slipped disk in his back, underwent surgery and was unable to participate fully for months. Beckham spent the much of his freshman football season in rehabilitation, strengthening himself to make a comeback.
"I just wanted to be able to play," said Beckham, "Back surgery in football isn't common and not everyone who has back surgery is capable of playing again. It was a struggle. But I'm doing well. Since then, my back hasn't hindered me. I know it's there, and I still have to do rehab everyday, and I will have to do it for the rest of my life. But I love football, so in that sense, it's worth it."
Since the surgery, Beckham has worked his way into the starting lineup 26 times over the past three seasons. Although public acknowledgement may not be forthcoming, admiration and respect by coaches and teammates is always present.