Former Big 12 stars adjusting after football

Former Oklahoma Sooners defensive end Jeremy Beal.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Beal is looking for a job. 

That’s a new exercise for the former Oklahoma star, whose task mostly boiled down to three words for most of his career: Get the quarterback. 

He did it well in Norman, logging 28 sacks and 53.5 tackles for loss in his final three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 honors from 2008-10 and was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press as a junior in 2009. 

Less than four years after his college career ended, he’s gone more than a year without a call from an NFL team and moved back home to Carrollton, Texas a few weeks ago after a brief stint in the Canadian Football League. 

He had earned around $50,000 a year in U.S. dollars as a CFL player, but that was closer to $30,000 a year after taxes. 

"I can come home and work a regular job and make that and not beat up my body," Beal told FOX Sports Southwest in a recent interview. 

So, that’s what he did. 

Coaching at local high schools like Newman-Smith in Carrollton and Ranchview in Irving are possibilities. So is becoming a car salesman. 

For now, though, he’s back at home with mom, hoping to find a job and buy a house.

Adjusting to life after football is difficult for almost any athlete, but it can be especially hard for college stars like Beal when their careers end far sooner than they anticipated. How they make the adjustment will decide how the rest of their life plays out. So what happens when you go from an All-American to an NFL outsider in what often feels like overnight? 

Results may vary. 

In Beal’s case, size was the culprit for not being drafted until the seventh round and his career’s early end, despite his production in college.  

"I have no doubt that if I was 6-5 and 275 pounds, I’d be in the NFL right now," he said. "But I’m 6-2, 260 and I ran a 5.1 (40 time). That’s what it is, who I am." 

Texas Tech star Brandon Carter entered the NFL trying to answer questions about his ability to run block and concerns about his presence in meeting rooms and the locker room.

An All-American in 2008 during Texas Tech’s run to an 11-1 regular season, he gained notoriety for his colorful mohawk and game day face paint.

Brandon Carter

But the following year he was suspended a game and stripped of his captaincy for violating team rules. It also didn’t help that Texas Tech threw the ball on more than two-thirds of its snaps in 2008 and 2009. 

He also gained notoriety for his colorful mohawk and game day facepaint.

Texas Tech threw the ball on more than two-thirds of its snaps in 2008 and 2009. 

"Tech ran so few runs, and  NFL teams weren’t sure who they would be getting," said Carter.. "The other part was my character. They were worried about the face paint and the suspension, they were worried about who I was." 

He went undrafted. 

"I think a huge part was a lot of the teams weren’t sure what they were going to get with the whole face paint thing. I understand that, but that was just a fun thing for me," he said. "The more teams got to know me, it became less of a factor, but for some teams, it was a red light." 

Former Oklahoma star Rufus Alexander earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2006 and was a first-team All-American. He was projected anywhere between a late third-round selection and an early sixth-round selection. He went in the sixth, but suffered a torn ACL in the first preseason game of his first year and it never returned to full strength. 

That left him frustrated, considering he’d suffered a more serious ACL tear on his opposite leg at Oklahoma. 

Rufus Alexander

"Treatment-wise, it wasn’t a good situation," Alexander said, adding he wished he’d been able to do his rehab at Oklahoma. "Minnesota, I feel, they didn’t do a good job, as far as things I could have done to rehab myself." 

After a brief stint with the Colts, the Lions eventually cut Alexander. Buffalo showed some interest, but Alexander decided he was done chasing his NFL dream and returned home to Norman, where he could take better care of his son. 

Oklahoma director of football operations Merv Johnson pointed him toward Vertical Pharmaceuticals, which had an opening for a salesman. Alexander worked there until the company was sold over a year ago. After he was let go as part of the transition, he turned a part-time gig at Oklahoma City radio station The Franchise into a full-time job, paired with a sales position for its parent company, Tyler Media. 

"It wasn’t a big deal for me. I felt like, ‘I’ve got a college degree and I can be a productive citizen,’" Alexander said. "My life wasn’t centered around football. Football was a way for me to get out of the situation when I was younger. When it was done, I was OK with it being done." 

Alexander came to Oklahoma from a poor family in Louisiana and became the first person in his family to earn a degree. 

"That’s what drove me. If I made it big, that was just an added bonus," he said. 

Former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell finished fourth in 2008 Heisman Trophy voting, and like his teammate, battled skepticism from NFL teams about his offensive system under coach Mike Leach. 

"We had some good QBs at Tech before me that got drafted and didn’t pan out and that kind of hurt me. They thought I was just another in the line," he said. "I thought I’d get drafted, but coming from Texas Tech, a lot of people said i was a system QB. I heard that, but I didn’t think it’d cost me to not get drafted at all." 

He went undrafted and found a home in the CFL after a brief stop with the Cleveland Browns. 

He left after a season to join the Green Bay Packers, who kept him on the roster to backup Aaron Rodgers from 2010-12. 

Graham Harrell 

He also dipped his toe into coaching by helping Dana Holgorsen install his offense at Oklahoma State in 2010 when Holgorsen was hired as offensive coordinator. 

In August 2013, the Packers cut Harrell, who briefly made his way onto the New York Jets before being cut again. 

"The key was to not get down on myself," he said. "It’s an empty feeling and you’re like, ‘What now?’ If you stay disappointed for too long, you ruin any chance you have of making it." 

The calls from NFL teams got more scarce, and Leach, now at Washington State, called Harrell in spring 2014 to suggest he come to Pullman, Wash. and hang out for a few days, offer some thoughts and provide help rebuilding the Cougars’ program. 

Once there, he would watch the quarterbacks each day and offer a report to Leach. Before he headed back home, Leach had a question. 

"If I could create a position for you, would you be interested?" Leach asked. 

A few days later in April 2014, Harrell was officially an offensive analyst at Washington State and was in the process of moving from Tyler, Texas to Pullman when he spoke with FOX Sports Southwest this month. 

"I’ve always known I wanted to coach when I was done, so this opportunity was too good to pass up," Harrell said. 

The job offer came with the promise that if an NFL team called, Harrell had Leach’s blessing to continue pursuing his dream on the field before fully focusing on his hopes to succeed on the sidelines. 

"If i’m done, I’m fine with being done. I’ve had a great career," he said. "Leach has really pushed me to stay in shape. He always said ‘You’re good enough to play.’ It’s good for me and good for him. With the season approaching, we’ll see what happens."

Harrell’s seamless transition from playing to post-football pursuits is more the exception than the rule. 

The WWE contacted Carter, a big wrestling fan, when he was a sophomore at Texas Tech to express interest in signing him in the future. After he left the in 2011, he signed on with NXT Wrestling, the WWE’s developmental program, to perform as "TAC." 

Three months in, he suffered a concussion after being dropped on his head and later developed pneumonia. 

"My body was telling me my athletic career was over," he said. "The concussions had a lot of effect on me. I have a hard time remembering a lot of stuff. That’s the unfortunate side. That’s a side of football that’ll be around for awhile." 

Eventually, he moved back home to Lubbock to be closer to family and his girlfriend and got in touch with a friend who worked closely with former Texas Tech linebacker Zach Thomas, who owned a gym in town called "Zach’s Club." 

In the year and a half since, his days usually begin with 6 a.m. wakeup calls and go until 8 p.m. working mostly with some regular clients as well as athletes in high school and college-aged athletes looking to walk-on at various programs. 

He hopes to parlay that into an eventual job on a college or high school coaching staff, but he’s stuck trying to earn a teacher’s certificate if he’s going to jump on with a high school staff. Because of time conflicts in college, he didn’t have the option of earning his certificate while also playing football. Now that he’s graduated, he (and others like him) must foot a bill of around $7,000 to become a licensed teacher. 

"Most students can get a teachers’ certificate while you get a degree in four years. If you’re an athlete, you don’t have that option," he said. "A lot of guys want to coach HS sports. It was kind of puzzling to me. The ($7,000) is a pretty big burden on a lot of people. I went to the NFL for a little time, so I had an opportunity, more than some. Some guys come out of college without a dime to their name, especially some of the athletes." 

He’s been talking to advisors at Texas Tech about trying to get that issue fixed. 

Across the state in Carrollton, Beal is still waiting on his connections to come through, but he wakes up every day looking back on missed opportunities that have nothing to do with football. 

"I wish I would have picked a different major and challenged myself. I took the easy way out," he said. 

Today, he can’t even remember what his specialty within multidisciplinary studies was and graduated with a 2.78 GPA. 

"Football taught me a lot. work hard, have mental toughness and be successful in whatever you do," he said. "But educational-wise, it could have been better. That’s not on Oklahoma. That’s more on me. I didn’t take school as seriously as I should have."

Even without that effort, Beal is in better position than many of his teammates who either failed to get degrees or got less-than-valuable degrees like his and have struggled to find work since. 

"I was one of the fortunate ones. I’m pretty book smart. It’s easy to me. I could not even try and get a C, but I came from a good high school, was well-educated," he said. "Some guys didn’t know how to write a paper or construct a sentence."

He never thought about what might happen if football didn’t work out. He worked hard enough to stay eligible and got his degree, even if that degree has helped him very little so far in his post-football career. 

"I couldn’t make a decision. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. By the time my junior year hit, advisors were like, you have to choose a major," he said. "They didn’t really steer me, they put the majors out in front of me, said I had a certain percentage done of each one. I said, OK, let’s do (multidisciplinary studies)."

Even if Beal was going to coach or sell cars, he’d be competing for jobs with others who have done either for extended periods of time. He’s already 26 years old and has no professional experience outside of a name most everyone in Oklahoma still recognizes. 

"I want to be a college coach and be at a big-time university coaching kids and doing that, but like when I went to the NFL, you can plan to do one thing and it goes another way," he said. "What I want and what happens can be two different things."