Expectation has become a dirty word for Gopher football fans. The forty-plus years since the Gophers' last Big Ten title has been filled with disappointment, heartache, and a lot of failed expectations. The Tim Brewster Era brought that to new levels- or should I say new lows: Last year I had the audacity to boldly proclaim I was OVER-confident that Brewster's team could beat 1-AA South Dakota at TCF Bank Stadium. As you may remember, that didn't happen. Minnesota lost 41-38 and GN kindly reminds me about that anytime I bring up anything even resembling a positive expectation.
There's been plenty of disappointing games like that one, entire disappointing seasons, and also disappointing players. Hayo! Carpenter was supposed to be the second coming of Jerry Rice as a JUCO transfer wide receiver (at least that's how I remember Brew selling it), and he did all of absolutely nothing. David Pittman? Zilch. Paris Hamilton? Nope. Matt Carufel was a highly recruited offensive lineman from Minnesota who spurned the Gophers for Notre Dame. Things didn't work out in South Bend, so he came back to Minnesota...and things didn't work out. Sure he started for two seasons, but that's only because Tim Brewster either couldn't or wouldn't recruit linemen that were any better. JC transfer Jeff Wills? At 340+ pounds he was as big as a building, and just as mobile. When I think of transfers to Minnesota- either JUCO or from another D1 program- it's hard not think of the failures.
But there have been successes. Senior safety Kim Royston is one- I hope. Royston transferred from Wisconsin, played great in 2009- and then broke his leg so badly he missed the entire 2010 season. Whole thing. He's back for 2011 and is SUPPOSED to be 100% but again, there's those "expectations". I HOPE it works out for Kim, only because he's busted his keister to get to this point, and also the defense really, really needs him.
Another guy the defense really needs to step up is another transfer, and he's also my pick for the Minnesota Gopher impact newcomer. Because we're talking about not only expectations, but expecting something positive from a transfer player, a Gopher fans' first reaction might be to shudder. Or scoff. Or sit in the fetal position. Or clutch your autographed framed picture of your illegitamate son Adam Weber and tell yourself everything will be ok (ok you only do that if you're GN).
But dare to dream, Gopher fans. Well, ok, maybe not dream dream. I'm not proclaiming that middle linebacker Brendan Beal is going to be an All-American, or even an all-conference performer in 2011. So dare to be...positive? I'm saying he could be, and perhaps SHOULD be, one of our best defensive players in the upcoming season, and for the Gophers to have a chance to go bowling, he's going to have to be. If you look at his accomplishments from the last season he played, that wouldn't seem like a stretch:
Parade All-American • EA Sports second-team All-American on defense • AP Class AAAA first-team all-state selection as a senior • Participant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl • USA Today High School first-team Defensive All-American • Gatorade Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year • Selected to the All-EasternPAFootball.com Big School team • Led Liberty with 148 tackles (18 for a loss) while forcing eight fumbles and collecting 10 sacks in his senior year • Picked up 151 tackles and 11 sacks as a junior while picking off two passes • Racked up a career-high 17 tackles against Easton • Garnered 121 tackles among six sacks and an interception as a sophomore at Roxbury High School • Ranked as the second-best inside linebacker prospect by Rivals.com • Member of the ESPN 150 class • Four-star recruit by Rivals.com and earned five-star billing from Scout.com.
Of course, those accolades, from the last season where he played and started were from high school. And that was in 2008....wait! wait! wait! Don't be afraid! Don't get depressed! Get out of the fetal position right now! GN, stop hugging your Adam Weber picture! Yes, it's been awhile since Beal has played in an actual live football game, but he has talent and there's a lot to like here. A lot to, dare I say it, to get excited about...
Ok, so let's start with what happened from the time Beal was an all-everything linebacker for Liberty high school in Bethlehem, PA as a senior in 2008, and how he got here now, to be Minnesota's starting middle linebacker in 2011. The highly decorated Beal could have gone to any school he wanted, and chose Florida over suitors like LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC, Miami and Boston College (one of these things is not like the other...), but blew out his knee as a true freshman in 2008. He was granted a hardship waiver so he didn't lose a year of eligibility, but then missed all of 2009 due to injury too. By the time spring ball rolled around in 2010 he hadn't played football in almost two years, and at a football factory like Florida, well, his shot for playing anytime soon had vanished. According to a Florida blog he was 5th on the middle linebacker depth chart coming out of the spring, and Beal decided he'd go somewhere with a fresh start where playing time would actually be an option.
Enter Minnesota- and Tim Brewster. Per this Gopherhole interview that was done with Beal in June of 2010, he and Brew really hit it off (and would have made for an excellent sitcom title: "Beal and Brew"). So we can thank Brewster for at least landing us Beal. The other thing that helped was the U's excellent business school, as he's now a finance undergrad at the Carlson School of Management and hopes to complete a masters in something called quantitative finance before his college playing days are done. So yeah, Beal is smart as well as an athlete.
Once he got to Dinkytown in August 2010, Beal had to spend another college football season watching games instead of playing in them due to NCAA transfer rules. And like the rest of us, he can't like what he saw, as Brewster and his staff were fired and the team finished 3-9. The Iowa win, though, was pretty sweet, perhaps bittersweet for Beal, since he couldn't participate. But like everyone has, Beal used the disappointment of 2010 as motivation, took to new coach Jerry Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys well, and played well enough in the spring to grab the starting middle linebacker job. He beat out Gary Tinsley, Minnesota's best defender in 2010, which seemed like the logical thing since Tinsley, at 230 pounds with good wheels, seemed better suited for the outside anyway. (Problem was, Tinsley was banged up during the spring and couldn't practice much, so he not only lost his MLB position, but couldn't win a spot I thought he'd get by default on the outside. But that's another story for another time.)
Which brings us to the 2011 season, as the Gophers and Beal prepare for USC in the season opener. What I loved from that Gopherhole interview was that Beal, a full 14 months ago, already knew who the U's first opponent was in the first game he'd be eligible to play. He knew it was USC and in the Coliseum, and I have a feeling he's had that date circled on his calendar since he decided to transfer to Minnesota. An athlete with this kind of production in high school has pride, and that pride has to be wounded after what's happened to him since he got to college. That dominant player he was is still there, and still capable, and you have to think he's just dying to prove everyone wrong, and that he can still be one of the top linebackers in the country like he was projected to be.
Per his Scout profile from 2008, his positives were his size, strength and instincts, all of which should be fully intact. Even before his injuries he was never going to be "SEC FAST" for a middle linebacker, and there are going to be guys who are faster sideline-to-sideline than Beal, but his instincts and strength to shed blockers should put him around the ball a lot. And the best part? Thanks to that hardship waiver, he's still only a redshirt sophomore, meaning he still has three more seasons to roam the middle for the Gophers. Oh, and he's going to wear the #1. That's right, a middle linebacker asked for #1. You think he isn't ready to prove everyone wrong? He's motivated, he's talented, and he's smart, and while he has a lot to learn about the new defense (just like everyone else in Maroon and Gold) Beal has the potential to be special.
How special? Well, I don't want to get unrealistic expectations going here, or to say I'm "over confident" that Beal will be a great player for the Gophers. Like you, I'm a jaded Gopher fan, so believing this guy can realize his potential could be yet another recipe for disappointment, but I like his chances. With Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys here, and the delicious new Kill-aid that's been going around Gold Country (or Gopher Nation), I'm daring to be positive, even optimistic, that Beal will be an excellent player for Minnesota, and their impact newcomer of the year for 2011. How's that for expectations?