Sept. 5, 2003
by Cory Walton
“It felt like a really bad cramp that just wouldn’t go away,” Notre Dame cornerback Jason Beckstrom says.
It was August of 2002, and the senior from Tulsa, Okla., was in preparation with the rest of his teammates for the upcoming season, one in which he would personally play a large role in the defensive secondary.
Then, as he tried to maneuver around a blocker during a kickoff drill, he felt a searing pain run through his left arm. When swelling appeared in the area almost immediately, the 5-11, 186-pound corner was removed from practice and ice was applied to the injury.
As a precaution, Beckstrom underwent an MRI on the arm. In his own mind, however, the pain wasn’t great enough to keep him off the practice field.
“The swelling came down a little bit, and the pain still persisted, but I went on practicing for two days until the results of the MRI came back and I could find out if anything was wrong,” he says.
When those results came, bad news came with them. The MRI revealed a tear in Beckstrom’s left biceps, an injury that would require season-ending surgery. His senior season, and all the promise that went with it, was done before the Irish had even played a down.
He remembers being overtaken with a feeling of disbelief upon learning the seriousness of his injury, and the measures that would have to be taken to correct the problem.
“I really couldn’t believe it because it didn’t feel that bad. You think of a biceps tear and you think it’s going to be a lot more painful than it is. You have a lot of high hopes, a lot of expectations and things you want to prove going into your last year. Then to have an injury like that happen, my mindset was one of ‘Is this really happening?’,” Beckstrom says.
The senior cornerback was told that, without surgical measures to correct the problem, he would run the risk of losing the strength in the muscle. Beckstrom underwent successful surgery in September and was back on campus soon after his ordeal.
After surgery, however, Beckstrom was left with some personal decisions to make. The operation had all but ruled out any chance of suiting up for the Irish during the ’02 season, after which his eligibility would be completed. If he made the commitment to forgo the entire season, he would qualify for a medical redshirt, enabling him to return to the Irish lineup for a fifth year in ’03.
“The seriousness of the situation didn’t really hit me until after surgery. I had a lot of things to consider. I could just go ahead and graduate and enter the real world or I could come back for season and go to graduate school. It was a big bite of reality,” he says.
While he pondered his decision, Beckstrom began rehabbing his injury . Despite the fact that his future with the Irish was uncertain, he didn’t want to close the door on his football career.
“I didn’t have full motion in my arm and they wanted to protect the injury, so I rode the bike and worked out my legs a lot. You lose a lot of conditioning when you’re injured, so I was on the bike a lot,” he says.
“I would ride it during practice, and I would go in on my own between classes. As things progressed, they let me jog around the field for the length of practice so I could get my wind up.”
In the midst of the rehab process, the senior corner reached a decision concerning his future. He was going to apply for a medical redshirt, and, after graduation, would enter graduate studies at Notre Dame. This decision also meant that #9 could strap on his pads for one more year under the autumn skies of South Bend.
Meanwhile, the 2002 season had commenced, and Beckstrom was forced to watch from the sidelines while fellow cornerbacks Shane Walton and Vontez Duff stepped into the national spotlight. As the team piled up a 10-3 record, and earned a New Year’s Day berth in the Toyota Gator Bowl, Beckstrom continued to rehab his injured left biceps.
“It was tough to sit and watch for so long, especially with the success that the team was having, but it was just something that I had to do. I wanted to be out there, though,” the senior says.
“It was tough to sit and watch for so long, especially with the success that the team was having, but it was just something that I had to do. I wanted to be out there, though.”Senior Jason Beckstrom
Once the season ended, Beckstrom turned his focus to rehabbing his injured arm. He continued to make progress through the winter and spring, and when it came time for spring practice, a full nine months after his left biceps had torn, the senior was able to join his teammates on the field. With the departure of 2002 All-America cornerback Walton, Beckstrom emerged from those drills as the leading candidate to start at the corner position opposite returning All-America Duff.
“It felt great to get back out there. I was a little rusty, but that’s to be expected after sitting out for such a long time. It was just a good feeling,” he says.
When the ’03 Blue-Gold game rolled around, Beckstrom was anxious to take part in his first game action since the ’02 spring game, during his junior year. The senior recorded six tackles, four of them solo stops, in the contest. More importantly, his rehabilitated left biceps had passed the first test on the road back.
Around the time that he was beginning another phase of his football career, a part of his academic life was coming to an end. In May ’03, Beckstrom graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the Mendoza College of Business.
Beckstrom didn’t wait long to put that degree to use, completing a summer marketing internship for adidas while remaining in South Bend to continue conditioning for the ’03 season. His duties in that role included ordering equipment for the 26 Irish varsity sports, learning to use the computer software vital to the business, and helping to organize the Notre Dame alumni events that adidas sponsors.
“I really got to know the company, where it’s been, why it’s been so successful in the past,” he says.
Now that summer has passed and football has returned to Notre Dame Stadium, Beckstrom’s arm will be put to the test against some of the nation’s top teams. The senior corner says he’s confident that the biceps tear is completely healed. In fact, he says, it may even be improved over its pre-injury state.
“There’s no doubt about it, it’s ready to go. I feel like it’s just as strong, if not stronger, than the right one, which nothing ever happened to,” he says.
“Ready to go” is something that Beckstrom knew he would need to be entering the ’03 season. Having heard all the talk that he is going to be targeted because quarterbacks would avoid throwing at Duff, one of college football’s best shut-down corners, the senior says he welcomes the challenge.
“The reason I came to Notre Dame was to play the best teams and the best athletes in the country week in and week out. If they’re going to throw at me, I invite that. I’ll put myself up to it, and I think I’ll do a good job,” Beckstrom says.
“People don’t know that I’m a physical guy, and I have a big heart. I’m not going to quit or give in. I’ve been through a lot to get where I am. I feel that I can out-will the other person. When we’re both tired and don’t feel like playing any more, I feel like I have the mental capacity to keep going and overtake the guy across from me.”
The schedule for the ’03 season against some teams with multiple receiving threats, namely Pittsburgh, USC and Florida State. According to Beckstrom, the experience that the secondary, comprised of four seniors-Duff and Beckstrom at the corners, Glenn Earl and Garron Bible at the safety positions-who have all played extensive minutes, will prove crucial.
“On a team like this, when you’re trying to compete for a national championship, the most valuable thing you can have is experience. With experience comes leadership, with experience comes hard work and people who know how to get the job done,” he says.
In the senior corner’s opinion, this year’s secondary has the potential to be one of the most feared in the nation.
“We have guys who can go out and get the job done. It’s a good feeling to come to the field every day and play alongside guys who you know can get it done. If other teams underestimate us, that’s a mistake. We’re going to show them what we can do,” he says.
Football, however, isn’t the only sport that Beckstrom competes in on the college level. Since the 2001-02 season, the speedster has been a member of Notre Dame’s indoor track and field team, something that he hopes to continue this winter.
According to Beckstrom, who runs the 60-meter and 100-meter dashes, as well as the 4×100 relay, the one-on-one nature of the sport is what appeals to him.
“In track there are no excuses. It’s you against the rest of the field. You really have to be internally motivated, and if you are, then you’ll be fine,” he says.
At the ’03 University of Windsor Team Challenge, Beckstrom ran to a third-place finish in the 60 meters. His previous best was an eighth place finish in the same event at the ’02 Windsor meet.
The broad horizons of the senior from Tulsa also aren’t limited to the field of athletic competition. After earning his degree from Notre Dame in marketing, Beckstrom has elected to pursue a course of graduate study that is geared toward the field of psychology, which he feels will be a helpful compliment to his bachelor’s degree.
“Psychology is something that I’ve always enjoyed. Figuring out how people work and what makes them tick is something that I’ve always had a lure to. I’m a people person, and psychology can really help me out in marketing,” he says.
The marketing industry may have to wait a while before Beckstrom comes calling, however. The fact remains that he, in his own words, “has some offers to work with” in marketing, but there is another hat that Beckstrom would like to try to wear after his final season with the Irish-that of a professional football player.
“I’d love to give the NFL a shot. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, since I was six years old. It’s something I love to do, and if you can get paid to do something you love, then go ahead and give it a shot,” he says.
For now, though, his final season with the Irish is the business at hand for the senior corner. Beckstrom entered the season with career numbers of 39 tackles, six passes broken up, one interception and a fumble recovery. While he spends the fall months on the gridiron, building upon those career totals as each game passes, Beckstrom says that all his personal accomplishments only fit into a larger goal that he has for this Irish squad.
“We want to be at the top. There’s nowhere else to be in our minds than at the top. We had a great season last year, but we didn’t quite get all the way there. This year we’re going to take it to the top,” the senior says.
From a man who has put in the time and given of himself just to step onto that field for one more season, those words of determination carry weight. After the year-long odyssey of coming back from a torn left biceps, Beckstrom hopes to lead his team to victory, just like he desired to stay with the Irish for one more year. As he steps onto the field each Saturday afternoon, adorned in blue and gold, it’s apparent that there’s something to be said for desire.