Inside the chase for top recruit DGB
After four years of being recruited, Dorial Green-Beckham’s college decision was made in less than a minute.
As he and his family drove home from his official visit to Missouri on Sunday along US Route 63 in their black Honda Odyssey van, he suddenly said, “Dad, I’m ready to talk.”
His adoptive parents, John and Tracy Beckham, had never pressured Dorial about his college future, and because they did not, it was rarely discussed. But when the Hillcrest High School star wide receiver, who is the top high school football recruit in the Class of 2012, said those five words, his parents knew exactly what he meant: He had made his college decision.
Just as they did when he told them, “Mom, get me a snapback.” It was Dorial’s way of telling his mother to buy him a throwback Missouri baseball cap, one in which its size can be adjusted by a snap on the back.
As Dorial sat in the middle row of the van, he smiled broadly and took a deep breath.
And when he announced Wednesday morning in Hillcrest High’s gymnasium, before a live national television audience, that he will attend Missouri, he did so by putting on a black "Mizzou" cap, which set off a resounding roar of cheers from a crowd of about 1,500.
“I felt like it was the place for me,” said Dorial, 18, who has been compared to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. "Just to stay home and to have all these people come out here and watch me play."
The addition of the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Dorial, who has 4.43-second speed in the 40-yard dash and owns the national high school career receiving yardage record (6,353), is a significant coup for a Missouri program that is in the process of leaving the Big 12 and will begin play in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference next season. He chose the Tigers over Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas but said their conference affiliation was not a factor.
Dorial and his family provided FOXSports.com with an in-depth look of his guarded recruitment. The dizzying journey had plenty of twists and turns along the way, especially in the final weeks.
Just a week before Dorial’s decision, John Beckham, who is the football coach at Hillcrest High, thought his son was headed to Arkansas. But that was before Dorial was overwhelmed by his official visit to Missouri, where signs such as “Welcome Home” were hung from highway overpasses, fans chanted “MIZ-DGB!” and his favorite food, fried sushi, was served at every meal.
But even after Dorial told his parents of his decision, there was still plenty of other drama, such as his college choice being reported a day later by the Tulsa World, an Arkansas booster leaving a voicemail on John Beckham’s cell phone indicating he was considering making a financial donation to Hillcrest High’s football team, and Tracy Beckham throwing up less than two hours before Dorial’s announcement.
“Most kids couldn’t handle it,” said Dorial, who was officially adopted by John and Tracy Beckham in 2009.
Dorial’s relationship with Missouri first began shortly after he moved in with the Beckhams in 2007. The shy seventh-grader was 6-foot-3 at the time and John Beckham took him to a Tigers football camp.
It was primarily for high school juniors and seniors, but Dorial fit right as a wide receiver, despite having hardly ever played football.
“This guy,” John Beckham recalled thinking as he watched Dorial in action, “could be really good.”
Missouri’s coaches were also impressed by Dorial’s potential. When they asked him what school he attended, he told them Reed.
They had never heard of the school and Dorial explained to them that it was Reed Middle School.
“That kind of freaked them out,” John Beckham said.
After a stellar freshman season at Hillcrest High during his father’s inaugural season as the team’s coach, Dorial’s first scholarship offer came from Missouri. Oklahoma and Arkansas followed suit.
Dorial’s legend grew during his sophomore season when his 1,616 receiving yards broke the state’s single-season record and he was a star of Hillcrest High’s state championship-winning basketball team. He also won state titles in the 100-meter dash and triple jump.
Recruiting process begins
John Beckham never sent out video of Dorial or took him to a camp during high school, but the scholarship offers began to flood in from powerhouses across the country such as Florida and Ohio State.
When Dorial’s recruitment started, his parents were always hopeful he would stay close to home. The “local schools” to them were Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, all less than 300 miles from their home.
During Dorial’s junior season, he and his family took an unofficial visit back to the closest of three, Arkansas, for the then-No. 10 Razorbacks’ game against top-ranked Alabama. The SEC showdown was the first major college football game Dorial had attended, and the pageantry, especially the pregame skydivers, mesmerized him.
Alabama won the game late in the fourth quarter, but by then the rowdy Razorbacks faithful had already made a lasting impression on Dorial.
“The atmosphere,” John Beckham said, “was unbelievable.”
Before the Arkansas-Alabama game, John Beckham thought Dorial would likely play at Oklahoma, a feeling the father had since the middle of Dorial’s sophomore year. The Beckhams liked the Sooners’ winning tradition, that their campus was less than a five-hour drive from Springfield and the stability of their coach, Bob Stoops.
A month after the Arkansas-Alabama game, Dorial and his family drove to Oklahoma to watch the then-No. 11 Sooners play a struggling Colorado team. But 30 miles outside Norman, the Beckhams’ car started having oil-pressure problems.
“It was one of those weird things,” John Beckham said. “Sometimes luck plays a little bit into this.”
The Beckhams made it to the game just in time for kickoff, so they were not able to spend time with the Oklahoma coaching staff beforehand as planned. The game’s atmosphere was starkly different from what Dorial had experienced at Arkansas-Alabama.
Fans were sitting down during much of Oklahoma’s blowout victory.
“It was nothing compared to what Dorial had just experienced a few weeks prior atmosphere-wise,” John Beckham said. “It was just the luck of how the schedule played out.”
The next morning, the Beckhams met with the Sooners coaches, who seemed to think Dorial had made his visit to commit to Oklahoma, Tracy Beckham said.
But that was not the plan, and when the Beckhams headed for their car, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell anxiously walked them all the way out, Tracy Beckham said.
But Arkansas had taken the lead for Dorial. The Razorbacks’ bid had also been bolstered by something no other school had done at the time: They had offered a scholarship to Dorial’s half-brother, Darnell, a then-promising freshman wide receiver at Hillcrest High.
John Beckham was skeptical of the offer initially, but even after Darnell was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2010, the Razorbacks said the offer remained valid.
“I think that kind of went to Arkansas being the leader for kind of a long time,” John Beckham said. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey, we can play together.’ ”
Added John Beckham, “I understand for Dorial and Darnell the importance of it, too. Dorial’s going to look out for Darnell, and here he has an opportunity to do that.”
A couple of months later, Dorial and his father took an unofficial visit to Alabama, where they met former Crimson Tide wide receiver Julio Jones, who was just weeks away from being a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
At one point, Dorial and John Beckham were shooting pool with Jones in the Crimson Tide’s players’ lounge while highlights of Jones flashed in the background on a TV as his NFL future was discussed.
“It was a pretty cool moment,” John Beckham said.
At the end of the visit, Dorial and his father had a lengthy meeting with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Coach Saban is on a different level basically in how he runs his program,” John said. “He leaves nothing to chance.”
Dorial’s trip to Alabama was the first significant challenge to Arkansas’ lead. It made an impression on him that lasted for a couple of months.
“He was really high on Alabama,” John Beckham said. “He was psyched about it.”
Dorial and his family members, however, continued to take other unofficial trips last spring.
They met Texas coach Mack Brown, who they thought was the most personable of all the head coaches. Tracy Beckham described him as “Mr. Picture Guy.”
“The other head coaches might be like, ‘OK, let’s get a picture,’ ” she said. “He’s like, ‘OK, now the moms!’ He’s like the wedding planner. He’s like, ‘OK everybody, Hook ‘em ‘Horns, here we go!’ He’s just hilarious. ‘OK, hold up this Heisman Trophy!’ It’s just like one thing after another.”
Dorial’s unofficial visit to Auburn was also high energy. When the Beckhams arrived, three people were dedicated to playing with their adolescent daughter, Eliza.
Auburn also proudly noted that Bo Jackson had starred for the Tigers and how he would send his daughter, Morgan, to the school. Jackson’s daughter then walked out and was introduced to the Beckhams.
The family was also shown a video about Spirit, Auburn’s bald eagle mascot, and the team equipment manager gave an hour-plus presentation about the athletic apparel and equipment players receive.
He told the Beckhams there were 253 different ways to tie a shoe.
“It was over the top,” Tracy Beckham said.
The Auburn coaches discussed the Cam Newton saga openly with the Beckhams and insisted investigations determined no wrongdoing. But when the family returned home, Tracy Beckham was disappointed to read comments on the Internet that suggested the Beckhams had made the visit in seek of financial gain.
“We’re money grubbers?” she said. “That’s a little disheartening.”
Making a list
By the time Dorial’s senior year rolled around, John Beckham asked his son if he was certain where he wanted to attend college. He wasn’t, and because Dorial didn’t want to be a distraction to his teammates, he and his father agreed not to take any official visits until after the season.
They also decided to cut Dorial’s choices to five schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. They tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the list private.
John Beckham called schools that did not make his son’s cut and told them they had been eliminated. Some coaches weren’t ready to give up, like Southern California’s Lane Kiffin, who pleaded for Dorial to at least visit.
“He was kind of like the girlfriend that’s just like, ‘This is just a phase you’re going through, you really don’t want to break up with me,’” Tracy Beckham said.
Other schools that found out they had been cut actually hadn’t been in the race for months. John Beckham decided he didn’t want Dorial to play at one school after he saw a coach slam a headset at the end of the game instead of simply handing it to a waiting assistant.
The coach was Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Tracy Beckham said.
Tracy Beckham, who has a master’s degree from the University of Kansas, was just as disappointed in the Jayhawks’ recruiting efforts under former coach Turner Gill, who was fired in November after two disastrous seasons. Kansas twice scheduled visits to see Dorial but canceled both, Tracy Beckham said.
“They were just a mess,” Tracy Beckham said.
After Dorial decided on his finalists, he and his father didn’t discuss them again until Hillcrest High’s season ended in November.
“If people knew how little we talked about recruiting, they’d be shocked,” John Beckham said.
Dorials made his first official visit to Texas in November for the Longhorns’ game against Kansas State. He and his family dined at Vince Young Steakhouse on the eve of the contest, but under NCAA rules, the school could pay to feed only Dorial and his parents, not his brother and a friend, whose meals cost $50 each.
“You have to make money like Vince Young to eat at that place because it was so expensive,” Tracy Beckham said.
The morning of the game, the Beckhams ate breakfast with the Longhorns at the Omni Hotel. The breakfast buffet was a pricey $50 per person, so the Beckhams had their son and his friend order off the menu to save money.
After Texas lost to Kansas State, the Beckhams didn’t get to talk with Mack Brown, but they went to his house the next morning for a catered breakfast attended by the Texas coaching staff. Brown asked the Beckhams whether they had questions before he told them, “I know we’re far away from home, but I can’t change that.”
Narrowing the field
Before Dorial left for the US Army All-American Bowl, a high school all-star game in San Antonio, in early January, John Beckham made sure he talked with his son about his recruitment.
It marked the first time Dorial’s recruitment had been discussed in-depth in months. By the end of the meeting, John Beckham and Dorial agreed the list of finalists would be cut to three schools after Dorial returned from the US Army All-American game.
In that contest, he set a record with a 79-yard touchdown reception and was chosen co-most valuable player. Later, while he and his family waited in the lobby of a hotel for their car to go home, they bumped into Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who was in town for the American Football Coaches Association Convention.
Earlier, they had also run into Oklahoma co-offensive coordinators Norvell and Josh Heupel and had talked to them for a while. The conversation was allowed under NCAA rules, but it also counted as one of the assistant coaches’ three off-campus visits.
But a head coach like Petrino is allowed to make only one off-campus visit to a recruit. The Beckhams talked with him and another Arkansas assistant for five minutes and left.
Tracy Beckham said Norvell saw the conversation and someone later reported it to the NCAA.
Because of Petrino’s conversation with the Beckhams, he was not allowed to attend an in-home visit his assistants made with Dorial and family in late January. When a report surfaced that Petrino would not make the visit, there was an uproar online.
But the Beckhams had known for some time that Petrino would not be in attendance.
“It’s weird that these coaches tell on each other,” Tracy Beckham said.
When Dorial came back from San Antonio, he eliminated Alabama, which the night before had won the BCS national championship, mainly because of the school’s distance.
John Beckham also had other concerns about Alabama in terms of his perception of the program.
“It may not be as kid friendly as some other schools,” he said.
Said Tracy Beckham, “With Nick Saban, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it’s a business and he’s a workaholic.”
Dorial also told his parents he was dropping Texas but wasn’t able to follow through on doing so, Tracy Beckham said. If Dorial struggled on the field or in the classroom, John Beckham thought, Texas coach Mack Brown could be trusted the most.
“That’s kept Texas in it as long as they have,” John Beckham said.
Mizzou makes its case
When Missouri coach Gary Pinkel made his in-home visit with the Beckhams the third week of January, he came in a helicopter. Upon landing, he was greeted by Dorial, who then climbed into the aircraft.
A photograph of Dorial sitting in the aircraft was on the Internet within minutes. Not mentioned, though, was that his being in the helicopter was a violation of NCAA rules.
But Missouri knew it and the next day, offensive coordinator David Yost called John Beckham and told him he was headed to the university’s compliance office to report the violation.
Missouri’s in-home visit was laidback, but Pinkel talked a lot about football. Pinkel, Yost and receivers coach Andy Hill hung out with John Beckham on the backyard deck while he cooked steaks.
Yost later went into Eliza’s bedroom, where she read him the book, “Jonah and The Whale.” Hill played pingpong against the Beckhams’ children. Yost also played against Eliza, whom he beat 15-12.
Two months earlier, Pinkel had been arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, but John and Tracy Beckham said that didn’t change their opinion of him.
“I felt very bad for him,” Tracy Beckham said. “I don’t think he’s some crazy drunk. I do think if that could have been other places — Alabama, Arkansas — it would have never happened.”
A negative in John Beckham’s mind about Missouri, even before its move to the SEC, was that it hasn’t been as successful recently as Dorial’s other finalists. John Beckham also knew his son’s chances of playing for a national championship weren’t as high with the Tigers.
John Beckham liked the closeness of Missouri and that he knew their coaching staff before the Tigers’ recruitment of Dorial. Beckham said he respected Pinkel but was most impressed by the continuity of his coach staff.
“In this day and age at that level of football, that speaks volumes,” John Beckham said.
A couple of days after Missouri’s in-home visit, Dorial and two of his brothers made an official visit to Arkansas without their parents. During the visit, Tracy Beckham said, fans bought Dorial alcoholic drinks unsolicited.
She said one of Dorial’s brothers took the drinks instead to make sure they didn’t go to him.
“They know he’s 18,” Tracy Beckham said. “They know who he is. They know he could get in trouble. It’s just idiotic.”
The day Dorial returned from his visit to Arkansas, he and his family gathered for dinner at a Houlihan’s restaurant to celebrate John Beckham’s 50th birthday. The meal illustrated exactly what John and Tracy Beckham battled with Dorial.
Dorial jokingly told the waitress he wanted a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea. She nodded, without asking for his identification, before John and Tracy Beckham told her their son was not old enough to drink.
When they asked the waitress how old she thought Dorial was, she said 24. While others ordered, Dorial again jokingly requested a Long Island Iced Tea, which the waitress seemed ready to bring him until John and Tracy Beckham insisted they weren’t joking about his age.
“See what we deal with?” Tracy Beckham said.
During the dinner, Dorial and his two foster brothers were discreet about the previous night out at Arkansas. They each slept for several hours when they returned home earlier in the day.
Dorial mentioned that he went to a shooting range during the visit. He pulled out his cell phone and proudly showed off a photo of himself shooting a black rifle.
While Dorial ate, he received a text message, from a telephone number he didn’t know, saying, “Petrino is headed to Oregon.” It came on the heels of reports that Oregon coach Chip Kelly was on the verge of accepting the same position with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which ultimately didn’t happen.
“I wouldn’t believe that,” John told Dorial of the Petrino rumor.
After Dorial and the rest of his family left, John Beckham sat in Houlihan’s and pondered his son’s college decision. Signing Day was just 10 days away.
John Beckham thought if Dorial had to sign with a school at that moment it would be Arkansas.
“They really have done a great job recruiting him from the very beginning,” John Beckham said.
But John Beckham had concerns about Arkansas’ graduation rate, as well as the frequent changes on Petrino’s coaching staff.
“Being a coach myself, when I see a lot of turnover, that raises red flags,” John Beckham said. “When guys are moving on for higher jobs, I understand that, but when there’s a lot of sideways movement, that’s one of those things that causes trepidation.”
Because of Dorial’s difficult upbringing, John Beckham said it was important for his son to have the same coaches.
“For him to trust somebody takes time,” John Beckham said.
Besides Arkansas’ graduation rate, Tracy Beckham was also worried about Petrino “having a little reputation,” which she hesitated to discuss.
“It’s what everybody will tell you, that he left his team in midseason,” she said in reference to Petrino’s resignation in 2007 as coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons after 13 games to take his current job. “There are other teams that bring that up a lot.”
Oklahoma did so the most, Tracy Beckham said. The Sooners thought Arkansas was their main competition for her son, and vice versa.
Arkansas constantly brought up that there is “a lot of stuff going on” at Oklahoma, she said.
“There’s players leaving like crazy,” Tracy Beckham recalled being told by Arkansas coaches.
An Arkansas fan also tried to make a pitch to the Beckhams. Although Tracy Beckham insisted her family was never offered anything against NCAA rules, she said it received a call from a Razorbacks booster.
“If there’s anything I can do for you, you let us know,” Tracy Beckham recalled the booster saying.
The day after Dorial’s return from Arkansas, Oklahoma’s Stoops and Norvell made an in-home visit with the Beckhams. At dusk, John and Tracy Beckham showed Stoops some of the family’s cows and they talked about limousine cattle for a while.
But the tone of Stoops and Norvell’s visit was mostly serious. They preached Oklahoma’s national championships and Heisman Trophy winners.
Norvell also handed out a stack of documents with information that included statistics such as the Sooners’ passing percentage.
“It was so much,” Tracy Beckham said. “All these sheets that were we won this, did this and did that.”
Later in the week, Texas’ Brown visited Hillcrest High, where he lived up to Tracy Beckham’s nickname of "Mr. Picture Guy" by posing for plenty of photographs. That night, Arkansas had its in-home visit without Petrino.
Razorbacks running back coach Tim Horton took the time to look at Eliza’s toys, but offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, Bobby’s brother, made a lasting impression. He told the Beckhams he could coach Dorial better than anyone else in college football.
"He made the hardest sell,” Tracy Beckham said.
When Dorial and his family took their final official visit to Missouri the next day, the Tigers’ Yost told the Beckhams to make sure to let him know when they got to Jefferson City, Mo., which is just 30 miles south of the university. After they did, they started noticing signs like “MIZ-DGB” and “Come Home To Be A True Son” hanging off highway overpasses.
Once the Beckhams arrived at Missouri, dozens of fans greeted them with chants of “MIZ-DGB!” instead of the traditional “MIZ-ZOU!” The reception overwhelmed Dorial, who walked through the raucous crowd to Yost, who told him, “It’s OK. Just wave to them.”
Dorial did, and the crowd roared in delight. Moments later, Dorial had loosened up some when he was greeted by Pinkel, who told him to wave one more time.
The fans again erupted in cheers before Dorial was met inside Missouri’s football office by some of the university’s faculty. The Tigers’ Hill then showed the Beckhams how he runs plays while one of Dorial’s brothers played video games in Pinkel’s office.
That night, the Beckhams were treated to steak and lobster in the Missouri football facility, but there was also fried sushi, Dorial’s favorite food. It was available at every meal Dorial ate during the visit, even breakfast.
The next day, when Dorial and his family arrived to watch the Missouri’s men’s basketball team play, the crowd roared. Before the game, there were fliers in the stands that said, “Mizzou has brought in the #1 ranked football player in the entire COUNTRY for today’s game . . . We’re changing the MIZ . . . ZOU chant today to MIZ . . . DGB. Please let Dorial feel the love and welcome him home to MIZZOU!!”
The chant rang out during the game, some students wore gold MIZ-DGB T-shirts, and there was even a giant cutout of Dorial’s head.
“It was just crazy,” Tracy Beckham said.
After the game, the Beckhams ate dinner in one of the suites at Memorial Stadium before they headed to the field, where the Tigers threw a surprise 50th birthday party for Hill. Hill’s wife even had Dorial present the Tigers-striped birthday cake to her husband.
Later, Dorial went out to Harpo’s, a bar where he was supposed to attend a private gathering the previous night but was not able to enter because he was not 21. But this time, the bar had a MIZ-DGB sign on its exterior and he was allowed to enter.
“They had quite the fine time,” Tracy Beckham said.
Quietly, a couple of weeks before Dorial’s visit, Missouri did what Arkansas had and offered a scholarship to Dorial’s younger half-brother, Darnell. But, unlike Arkansas, Tracy Beckham said, the Tigers coaches told the Beckhams the offer stood regardless of Dorial’s college decision and that if Darnell was unable physically to play football, he could be a student assistant.
But Tracy Beckham insisted Dorial’s college decision was not made based on Missouri’s scholarship offer to his younger half-brother, even though she admitted there is now a better chance they attend college together.
The day before Dorial’s announcement, John and Tracy Beckham sat in a barbecue restaurant in Springfield and discussed their fondness for Texas’ Brown. John Beckham had sent him a text message earlier in the day that in part said that Dorial was staying “close to home.”
John Beckham said he did not inform Arkansas’ Petrino or Oklahoma’s Stoops.
It was earlier that day that the Arkansas booster had left the voicemail on John Beckham’s cell phone. Beckham played the message in which the booster said Hillcrest High’s football team was at “the top of the list” for high schools to which he was considering making a financial donation.
But it was too late by then. One of Dorial’s foster brothers had already purchased the Missouri “snapback” cap.