LSU WR Beckham has even surprised himself
LSU's receptions leader through five games is a true freshman who wasn't even sure he was going to get to play this season.
Given his pedigree, perhaps Odell Beckham Jr. should have expected more of himself.
His father, Odell Beckham Sr., played running back at LSU from 1989-92. His mother, Heather Van Norman, was a track star at LSU from 1991-93.
The younger Beckham, who grew up in New Orleans, is also the only Isidore Newman High School receiver other than Cooper Manning (Archie Manning's oldest son) to break the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season.
''I wanted to come in here and if I wasn't playing my freshman year, as early as I could, try and contribute anyway I could,'' recalled Beckham, who also was a defensive back, running back, quarterback and returner in high school. ''Luckily, I got the chance to be on offense and contribute a little bit.''
Lately, LSU players and coaches are ones feeling lucky that Beckham never really had any intention of playing anywhere else but LSU. He was also recruited by Miami, among other schools, but family ties to LSU outweighed most other considerations.
''I was born to be a Tiger so I had to come, and I knew this was going to be a team of a national championship caliber,'' Beckham said.
Heading into this Saturday's home game against No. 17 Florida, Beckham leads the top-ranked Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) with 20 catches, on which he's gained 268 yards and scored two touchdowns.
LSU coach Les Miles said it's still too early to call Beckham a leader of the Tigers' receiving corps, but the coach likes what he's seen lately.
''When we get it to him, he is going to put his hands on it, will give you great run after the catch and is a tough guy,'' Miles said. ''He is a guy that we ask to block for the run. He gives us the full spectrum of what we need a wide receiver.''
Beckham's touchdown catches have come in the Tigers' past two victories over West Virginia and Kentucky, and each went for more than 50 yards.
The first was a 52-yarder against the Mountaineers, when quarterback Jarrett Lee found him on the left side of the field and he sped away from the pursuit along the sideline. Then last week against Kentucky, he caught a first down pass from Lee along the left sideline, spun away from one tackler and cut all the way back across the field, making five defenders miss, on his way to a 51-yard score.
Just like his quick rise to prominence on the LSU offense, his touchdown catch-and-run against the Wildcats surprised him.
''I wasn't expecting it to go the way it did,'' Beckham said of the play, but then added, ''I like being in the open field, making moves. It just feels natural to me.''
Beckham said he was 3 years old when his father began teaching him the game of football, which might explain why a spectacular play ''feels natural'' to him.
When Beckham arrived at LSU over the summer, one of the first things he did was ask to work out with defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who a year earlier had emerged as the heir apparent to Patrick Peterson as the star of LSU's defensive backfield.
''We go up against some of the best DBs you're going to find,'' Beckham said. ''I asked to work with Tyrann in the summer because I watched him last year as a young player making a bunch of plays, and he's just a phenomenal player, so I wanted to do what he did.''
After distinguishing himself with a strong fall camp, Beckham cracked the starting lineup when junior receiver Russell Shepard was suspended for three games for violating NCAA rules.
''The opportunity presented itself and coach trusted me,'' Beckham said. ''Russell's one of our leaders as a receiver, so I just felt I had to do it for him, for this team, to try to step up and do what I can.''
He also had to quickly develop chemistry with Lee, who was elevated to starter when Jordan Jefferson, because of his arrest stemming from a bar fight, was suspended eight days before the season opener against Oregon.
''J-Lee's a great quarterback. He's done an amazing job this year and you know, off the field we just talk a lot about tendencies,'' such as where to expect a throw based on a defensive back's positioning, Beckham said.
''Chemistry with your quarterback is really important,'' Beckham continued. ''It wasn't really hard because Lee's a good guy, a great quarterback and he just makes all the right plays.''