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Jason Beckstrom: No regrets

Andrew Soukup | Thursday, November 13, 2003

He lunged to make a tackle on a kickoff drill in a preseason practice, but mostly missed the runner. Instead, his arm wrapped around the ball carrier for only an instant, before Jason Beckstrom felt something twinge in his arm.Just like that, he had torn his bicep. Just like that, he was out for the season.And so Beckstrom, who entered 2002 with such high expectations, grabbed a permanent spot on the sidelines for the 2002 season. Yes, the year Notre Dame “returned to glory.” Yes, the year he had his best chance to challenge for a starting cornerback slot. Yes, the year he hoped would propel him to an NFL career.So why isn’t he upset about it?Masked as a disguise“Sometimes things come in disguises,” Beckstrom said a year after his injury, “and I really think this has been one of those things.”When Beckstrom stood on the sideline of a practice field a year ago in pain, he had no idea his season was over. In fact, he thought his arm muscles had only cramped up. So he pulled his helmet back on, stepped back onto the practice field and played football for two more days.Then the results of the MRI came back. “Well, I guess I have to sit that one out,” Beckstrom remembers thinking when he heard the news. He had torn the smaller of his bicep muscles, which meant he could still move his arm but couldn’t do anything as physical as tackle a wide receiver. So he had arm surgery and traded his helmet for another year of eligibility.The thing was, Beckstrom never got visibly angry that he had to sit out the season. While he admits that it was tough watching Notre Dame have success with him on the sideline, he had faced season-ending injuries before. A shoulder injury his sophomore year kept him out of spring practice, and a torn hamstring and double stress fracture in his back made him miss his freshman and sophomore years of high school.”Experience is very key in something like that,” he said. “I knew that I’d feel like when I came back, and I realize what kind of story that would be and how people could take encouragement and inspiration from that to do the same thing.”Contemplating his optionsBut the year away from football made Beckstrom realize something else – he wasn’t quite ready to leave Notre Dame yet. Although he would be graduating with a marketing degree in May, Beckstrom didn’t quite think he was ready to face the real world.”Last year, I thought if I had to leave and go into the world, I didn’t think I was going to be ready,” he said. “I didn’t think I had the knowledge and the tools, even though I was going to graduate with a degree.”Beckstrom’s parents had always encouraged their son to prepare a backup plan in case football didn’t work out for the talented athlete. So with the extra year, Beckstrom started considering entering the McCloskey Business Plan competition, where Notre Dame students submit a business proposal and compete for a $15,000 grand prize.Beckstrom spent a year on his project, which he completed Nov. 14. His idea? A retail/electronics kiosk machine that could be placed anywhere in the retail industry.”I realized there’s other things out there than football that I want to do,” he said. “Football’s my passion, but there are other things too.”The year on the sidelines gave Beckstrom plenty of time to develop his business proposal. But it also gave him the chance to watch the Notre Dame defense from the sideline to help himself improve.And when spring practice rolled around, Beckstrom was ready to go.Competing for a jobWith Shane Walton moving on to the NFL, Beckstrom – who had 32 games at cornerback under his belt – found himself competing with junior Dwight Ellick, who had played only two games on defense.Beckstrom was confident he’d earn the starting job because he had the experience, even though spring practice ended with the battle undecided. The two resumed their battle in the fall, where Ellick gained a slight edge – and therefore more playing time – over the fifth-year senior.The choice might have been surprising to Beckstrom, who came from an Oklahoma high school defense that didn’t allow over nine yards of offense four times in his senior season and was considered one of the top prospects in his state.But while Beckstrom might have been disappointed that he might not have been playing as much, he shrugged off the second-team designation as easily as he shrugged off his injury.”You always expect to do more, to increase every year. But because of injuries, that hasn’t happened,” Beckstrom said. “The most important thing for me is to keep a positive mindset and always ready to be called on.”Beckstrom and Ellick became friends fast, however, and each continued to push the other in practice. For Ellick, the competition gave the young cornerback a chance to learn from a veteran. For Beckstrom, he got another year wearing the jersey of the school he wanted to attend since he was a child.”I know he’d rather be playing at lot and starting,” secondary coach Trent Walters said, “but he’s accepted his role and is doing real well.”Ready for the futureWith just three games left in his final year of eligibility, Beckstrom is starting to think about his football future. He’d love to give the NFL a shot, but also wants to try to make his business proposal work. “If I can have my cake, and eat it too, that would be something” he laughs. “Sometimes things don’t work that way, sometimes they do.”Oh, and that idea that he wasn’t ready to face post-graduate life? Beckstrom says that doesn’t exist anymore.Instead, he looks at the person he became while at Notre Dame – “I became a man and was able to face adversity and bounce back” – and realizes that his college career was worth all the struggles he endured.It’s easy to wonder if Beckstrom regrets coming back for a fifth year. But he doesn’t.”A lot of times life doesn’t go the way you want it,” he said. “Football is a metaphor for life. If I can make it through this year, that tells me I can get through anything in the future.”