Beshears reaching his potential

It's difficult to put a label on D.J. Beshears these days. After an ill-fated stint at cornerback as a freshman in 2009, the explosive sophomore has found a home on offense – and not at any one position. Be it at wide receiver, running back or on special teams, he's making an impact all over the field.

It's not as if Kansas fans can be blamed for not seeing D.J. Beshears coming, because let's be honest here. The sophomore speedster is probably used to being overlooked at this point.

As a junior wide receiver at Ryan High School in 2008, he put up outstanding numbers, hauling in 59 passes for 893 yards and 13 touchdowns. A year later those statistics ascended into Playstation territory, when he caught 88 passes for 1,450 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading RHS to a 9-4 record and a spot in the regional semifinals.

Those types of numbers typically act as a signal flare to college coaches, particularly when they come from the talent-rich proving grounds of the Lone Star State.

But such wasn't the case with Beshears, in Oct. of 2008 he committed to Head Coach Gene Chizik and the Iowa State Cyclones – his only major BCS offer.

Why the lack of attention? Well, it's simple. Numbers don't matter much to college coaches when the size isn't right, and Beshears stands just 5-foot-8. Never mind that he runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, is remarkably shifty in the open field and, at 175 pounds, was strong enough to break the tackles of bigger defenders.

It didn't matter. He was small, and in the world of big-time college that's enough to get a player labeled with a scarlet 'S' – metaphorically speaking.

When National Signing Day rolled around in February of 2009, however, the situation had changed. The Cyclones were dealing with some serious upheaval, having lost Head Coach Gene Chizik to Auburn in December. Though they replaced him with talented up-and-comer Paul Rhoads just a week after Chizik was officially announced at Auburn, Beshears had misgivings.

At the time, the Kansas Jayhawks were preparing to sign a class loaded with quality skill position talent, including a trio of highly-touted wide receivers – Bradley McDougald, Erick McGriff and Chris Omigie.

Omigie and McGriff were cut from a similar cloth, both 6-foot-4 or taller and without exceptional speed, but with excellent hands and strength. McDougald, a one-time Ohio State commit, was a little bit more of a playmaker.

But Beshears brought a completely different skillset to the table, and though the coaching staff under former Head Coach Mark Mangino got involved with him at the midnight hour, they pushed all the right buttons.

On Feb. 4, 2009, he inked his name to a National Letter of Intent to the University of Kansas.

"Though Beshears is an inch or two short, he can still stretch the field and is dynamic in space with the ball in his hand," wrote Baron Flenory, former Scout.com Midland Regional Recruiting Manager. "The Jayhawks were able to lure Beshears away from fellow Big 12 competitor Iowa State fairly late in the recruiting process, thus adding him to a great mix of receivers in this class. He will be a perfect compliment to the bigger receivers KU took in Omigie and McGriff."

At first, Jayhawk Nation uttered a collective "Who?" when perusing the list of signees and coming across Beshears' name, but slowly that began to change. Those who took the time to watch his film began to have visions dancing in their heads of quick slants and bubble screens to this explosive talent as a slot wide receiver, possibly paired with fellow playmaker Daymond Patterson – a fan favorite.

But in football – as in life – things are never quite that simple. With the Kansas secondary struggling to keep up with the speed and athleticism of the wide receivers and spread offenses of the Big 12, Mangino made a change.

It was a constant point of contention among the fanbase during his tenure on the sidelines in Memorial Stadium. With some players, Mangino's penchant for swapping positions paid huge dividends.

Nick Reid moved from quarterback to linebacker and went on to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior.

Charles Gordon did everything but serve popcorn at the concession stands during halftime, seeing significant time at both wide receiver and cornerback, as well as returning punts.

Anthony Collins came to Kansas as a defensive end and left a first-team All-America left tackle, a fifth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. Kerry Meier, who famously lost the quarterback job as a sophomore to Todd "Sparky" Reesing, become one of the two most successful receivers in NFL history, and is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

But Beshears experience was...well...not as successful. In an attempt to get his most athletic players in a position to help shore up the porous Jayhawks pass defense, both Patterson and Beshears were moved to corner.

Having never played cornerback, he nonetheless made his collegiate debut as a freshman in 2009 against Colorado – forgoing a redshirt in the process. He would start three consecutive games against Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas State, before being replaced for the final three games of the season.

By this time, any optimism surrounding Beshears in the minds of Kansas fans had largely subsided, until Turner Gill arrived on campus in December.

With Mangino's resignation under a cloud of controversy in December, former Athletics Director Lew Perkins moved quickly to hire his replacement – whom he found in the charismatic head man at the University of Buffalo.

With Gill came a proclamation. All players would be given the opportunity to play whatever position they wanted, until the coaching staff had a chance to evaluate them.

For Beshears, that meant new life on offense – and it's an opportunity of which he immediately began making the most.

Back at slot receiver, the Kansas coaches, including Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long, saw in the sophomore a versatility they could utilize. His pure speed was a great asset in the passing game, but his natural vision and elusiveness made him a great asset in the passing game as well.

So slowly but surely the coaches began to develop packages for him, designed to get the ball in his hands in creative fashion.

"He's kind of a Reggie Bush type of guy," said senior wide receiver Jonathan Wilson. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield, as a receiver and on special teams."

In the first three contests of the 2010 season, Beshears showed flashes of brilliance and potential. But it wasn't until the final game of the non-conference schedule, a tilt versus the New Mexico State Aggies on Sept. 25, that he finally broke out.

Beshears did a little bit of everything that night. He was the team's second-leading rusher with eight carries for 40 yards, and a pair of rushing touchdowns. He caught two passes as well.

And then there was the kick return.

With the score knotted at seven early in the second quarter following a NMSU touchdown, Beshears received the ensuing kickoff at his own four-yard line.

Following McDougald behind the wedge, he waited for the blocks to align, found daylight, and exploded down the sideline all the way to paydirt.

Kansas fans may not have seen Beshears' big day coming, but there exists at least one group of people who did.

His teammates.

"I really think everybody was expecting it out of him," said freshman quarterback Jordan Webb. "It came later actually than I expected it. We've been working him in, putting a lot of plays in for him and he really showed tonight that he deserves it."

From unknown high school talent to cornerback buried on the depth chart and now, at last, back to wide receiver, D.J. Beshears seems to be on the verge of making sure everyone – especially opposing defensive coordinators – knows his name.

"Well, I think each week we try to expand a little bit more with him," said Gill. "Being able to play receiver and running back for us, I think he's a very talented young man. He's only a sophomore, but he's definitely shown that he can do some things when he has the ball in his hands."

"I'm a receiver, but as of now I'll do whatever it takes to win," the soft-spoken Beshears said. "Whatever position Coach (Gill) wants me to play, that's what I'll play."


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