Sports

Beecher's turn – finally

If ever there was a 30-minute period that defined a person's character, it was a segment of Tommy Beecher's life on the night of Dec. 1, 2004. In the waning moments of Concord High School's playoff victory over Asheville, Beecher – now South Carolina's starting quarterback – proved that patience, perseverance and resolve pay off.

He has been proving it ever since.

You should know Beecher's Concord team trailed Asheville 20-0, and the Spiders' dream of winning a state championship for the first time in 75 years was all but gone. Seconds earlier, the play-by-play announcer on Concord's cable network telecast proclaimed “(Asheville) looks like they're headed to the state championship game.”

Concord coach E.Z. Smith sat in the Concord High football field house on a recent afternoon, watching video of that game's final minutes. Four years later, he still finds it difficult to comprehend that college coaches did not see what he saw in his star quarterback.

“How can you let a kid like that get out of the state of North Carolina?” Smith said.

Smith called USC coach Steve Spurrier, who suggested Smith send a videotape of Beecher's highlights.

Smith's two-hour video included everything: ball fakes, passes off his back foot, out patterns, fade patterns, post patterns, throws when getting hit, bootleg plays, scrambles and even a run from a punt formation.

Mostly, the video showed plays from the 2004 season. Included was the first play of the season-opener, when Beecher threw a perfect strike down the left sideline that hit the receiver in stride for an 80-yard touchdown. There also was the sectional championship game against Winston-Salem Carver, when Concord trailed 22-19 with 11.9 seconds remaining and faced a fourth-and-4 from the Carver 27.

Spurrier watched five minutes of the video. He liked what he saw.

“I thought he had a chance,” Spurrier said. “He could move around. His form we've worked on a little bit. But, like I told him, I've never had a quarterback come in that we didn't have to tinker a little bit with their throwing motion or their fundamentals of throwing.”

Spurrier was impressed enough to eventually offer a scholarship.

The Beechers reside in a cul-de-sac in the tony Woodcreek neighborhood of Concord, just a few football fields from Concord High.

Tommy Beecher's parents, Pam and Scott, built the house when they moved to Pam's hometown in 1992.

Spurrier's visit to the home in December of 2004 was quite the topic of conversation among neighbors.

It certainly was a big deal to Tommy and his brothers, Matt (now 19 and a tight end at Appalachian State) and B.J. (13 and an eighth-grader). Katie, a 16-year-old junior on the Concord High volleyball team, was intrigued.

Pam met Spurrier and his son Steve Jr. at the Concord airport and immediately began her interrogation.

She did not fret much over the lasagna she prepared. Her concern was with the academic opportunities available to her son at USC.

“All she probably heard about the University of South Carolina wasn't all that super,” Spurrier said.

A couple of days after the Spurriers returned to Columbia, they received a letter of apology from Pam for being so frank during their visit. She wrote that because of their previous acquaintance, she believed speaking boldly about academics was OK.

Pam longed for her son to attend Duke, which she attended, but that was not in the cards. She was satisfied Richmond could offer him a quality education. She wanted to make certain Spurrier and the USC coaching staff understood that if Tommy attended USC, his top priority was school work.

Tommy earned a 4.3 grade point average in advanced classes at Concord High and scored 1270 on his SATs. His father, Scott, is a physical therapist, and Tommy liked the idea of being a pediatrician.

Tommy Beecher liked the idea of entering USC's pre-med program. Before enrolling in school, though, Tommy and his mother took the two-hour drive to Columbia and sat in on an honors calculus II course taught by professor Bob Murphy.

Pam Beecher returned to Concord satisfied.

Tommy Beecher quickly learned at USC that mathematics was his strong suit. Then a math professor pulled him aside one day during his freshman year.

The professor told of how an insurance company representative had just left the professor's office without finding an actuary mathematician to fill a job vacancy. The starting salary, Beecher learned, was $80,000.

He quickly changed his major to mathematics with an emphasis on actuarial mathematics and statistics.

“Tommy was probably the smartest undergraduate student that I had,” said George Androulakis, a mathematics professor for eight years at USC. “During each of my lectures, I like to make every student participate, so some of the questions are designed to challenge the best students in the class.

“During the classes that Tommy took with me, he could always answer immediately the most challenging questions that I was asking. I believe that Tommy likes to be challenged with difficult questions, and he thrives in a challenging classroom.”

As a redshirt freshman in the spring of 2006, Beecher won the Harold White GPA Award among USC offensive players.

The next two springs, he won the Andrew Sorensen Scholar Athlete Award for having the team's highest GPA. He currently is the recipient of the Wyman L. Williams Scholarship, awarded to an undergraduate mathematics major at USC. His GPAs have held steady the past three years at 3.9, 3.82 and 3.79.

Spurrier often boasts that Beecher is “the smartest guy on our team.”

Whether that translates to the football field is not a given, though, according to Spurrier.

“I'm hoping Tommy is going to be a smart guy both places,” Spurrier said. “Some quarterbacks have tremendous common sense, which is really what it takes. Common sense and the ability to think and react quickly.”

The rumor around Concord was that Spurrier would offer Beecher a scholarship only if he led Concord to the North Carolina state 3A championship in December of 2004.

Spurrier said he never would make such a proclamation, but he admitted to being in search of winning football players when he arrived at USC.

“We always would like to have players who are accustomed to winning, certainly,” Spurrier said. “I may have said it's good to have players who are used to winning championships on your team.”

Regardless, when Beecher returned from Winston-Salem following Concord's victory over Wilson Hunt for the state title, a message from Spurrier was waiting on the family telephone. Spurrier offered a scholarship.

Still, Pam and Scott Beecher had questions.

Their son had built a famous relationship with Smith at Concord, and they wanted to know if the same kind could be established with Spurrier at USC.

Pam had been warned by Smith and others that Spurrier can be hard on quarterbacks.

She harked back to her days at Duke when she knew Spurrier – then an assistant coach – to be a “nice guy.” She knew of Spurrier's clashes with Duke quarterback Ben Bennett in 1980 and 1981, but she believed “Tommy Beecher's nothing like Ben Bennett.”

During the recruiting visit, Tommy's father asked Spurrier: “What do you expect from your quarterbacks?”

Spurrier, according to Scott Beecher, replied, “Perfection. I expect perfection. I don't always get it, but I expect it.”

Following Beecher's freshman year, one in which he was redshirted, he was prepared to transfer. A year on the sideline had not helped him climb Spurrier's depth chart, and three and sometimes four quarterbacks remained ahead of him. Learning to play under a different style of coach had taken its toll.

“Coach Smith became one of my best friends when I was at Concord,” Beecher said. “We could talk about anything. He became like my second dad. The way the coaches treat you in college is obviously a little different. It was a different experience for me.”

At Concord, while the rest of the team ate steak for its pregame meal, Beecher's coach allowed the quarterback's mom to bring a special dinner. Granted, while the Chick-fil-A meal was all about superstition, it showed Beecher was granted special privileges by his coach.

Beecher set up a meeting with Spurrier, who asked the quarterback to reconsider his plan to transfer.

Beecher turned to his deep-seeded faith in God to make a decision.

Understand, this is a 21-year-old who has memorized the letter of Paul to the Philippians, can recite the Sermon on the Mount from the book of Matthew and is working on three chapters of Proverbs.

Beecher has made two mission trips to Haiti, experiences that made him more appreciative of what he and his family have. In the years since, Beecher has reflected on those trips in times of trouble or indecision.

His mother has reminded him often during his stay at USC to remain patient, to persevere. She repeats the story of Moses, who wandered in the desert for 40 years in search of the Promised Land.

Three years of waiting his turn as quarterback at USC was no time at all.

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