“We found out pretty quick, even after the first few days of practice, that he was a guy that was very bright, he grasped the concepts very quickly, and he became a guy we could depend on,” Kragthorpe said. “He’s proven that through the course of the first three games.”
It was no secret that Beckham had a chance to have success at the SEC level, but the question became how quickly the Tigers could get the freshman involved.
“I was hoping that I could come to campus and make an impression on the coaches this summer,” Beckham said. “I knew there was some talent here and I would have to work hard to get there, but I was motivated and felt like I had something to add to the team.”
When Beckham arrived to campus last June, Rueben Randle and Russell Shepard were the top two options at receiver, and sophomores Kadron Boone and James Wright were coming off freshmen campaigns where both saw action.
But after an offseason of storm clouds, change was on the horizon.
Jordan Jefferson’s late-August arrest and suspension left the Tigers without their starting quarterback, meaning a pure passer, Jarrett Lee, stepped into the mix.
After violating NCAA protocol during an investigation into LSU’s program, Shepard was also suspended.
To make matters worse, first-year offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa worked through most of fall camp without Landry, who underwent foot surgery at the beginning of August.
For Beckham, the time was now, and the first person he turned to for advice was Randle - the team’s one proven commodity at receiver.
“I tried to teach him to not put much pressure on himself,” Randle said. “Just go out and play football. Don’t worry about the crowd and don’t worry about anything else that is going on. Just go out there and do your job.”
Through three games – including stops in Cowboys Stadium and a cowbell-friendly Davis Wade Stadium - Beckham has done just that. He leads the team with 15 catches, and his 111 total yards are second to Randle’s 229 yards.
For a fresh-faced product of Louisiana Class 2A football, the Newman High standout had no trouble bridging the gap to SEC ball.
“The biggest thing about Odell is that the game is not too big for him,” Kragthorpe said. “That’s one of the things that I first noticed about him, even at the start of fall training camp.”
When asked how Beckham got from there to here in such a hurry, Miles started with Beckham’s parents: Odell Beckham Sr. and Heather Van Norman.
Odell’s father played running back at LSU from 1989-1992 (he also wore No. 33), and his mother was an All-American track runner from 1991-1993, a stretch where she helped the Tigers to five national championships.
“In my opinion, it is a lot to do with the family he comes from,” Miles added. “He lives in a family where there are talented people who have the vision of doing something special. A guy like that comes into a college program, anticipates making those adjustments and does what his family has always done.”
Beckham’s ability to block out distractions has helped get him to the field, but his rapport with Lee has helped keep him there.
“My relationship with Jarrett has been tight,” Beckham said. “We have this certain connection where he knows where I will be and I know where he is going to throw the ball. He has stepped up and played great.”
With LSU picking and choosing their spots to go deep, Lee has worked Beckham into the mix with a blend of short and intermediate routes to eat away at defenses in between run plays.
“I like going deep, but any time we get those short routes it helps open up and get your confidence,” Beckham said. “I have been running bubble (screens) all of my career, so it hasn’t been a problem.
“(Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales) just has a lot of trust in me right now, and everything is clicking. It’s just a great feeling being out there.”
In the booth for the first time since his days at Bowling Green, Studrawa is counting his lucky stars – particularly with the absence of Shepard across the opening three weeks.
While the Tigers were without one of their most explosive offensive threats, Studrawa learned just how valuable Beckham would become to LSU as they moved into their conference schedule.
“It’s huge for me because you have a guy who you are going to call his number and you know what will happen, especially as a freshman,” Studrawa said. “The second thing is, for (Lee), if he knows he’s got confidence in a guy and he throws it pretty close to him, then he’s going to go get that football. That’s humongous.
“And that’s what Jarrett did (against Mississippi State). A couple of them were off a little bit, but you saw the catches (Beckham) made. From a quarterback’s perspective, he has confidence in that guy and he will throw him the ball when he wants to make big plays. That will continue to grow between those two individuals.”
So, how good can Beckham be?
Modest about his impact, the soft-spoken, 18-year old will tell you any talks of potential promise are premature.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Beckham said. “Hopefully I can be there some time this season, but if not I will be there at some point in my career. Right now I’m just trying to get to get used to the SEC. It’s a lot faster than Newman.”
Studrawa, who has been on the sidelines in Baton Rouge for five years, isn’t as hesitant to speak about Beckham’s potential.
“He reminds me of Early Doucet,” Studrawa said. “That’s how good that kid can be. You are going to see improvement from him every week.”
This week Shepard returns to the lineup, which begs the question of how Beckham’s role will change. Before his suspension, Shepard occupied the No. 2 receiver role that Beckham has become so reliable in.
Judging from his tone at the press luncheon on Monday, Miles has little hesitation about working Shepard back into the mix immediately, though he did not confirm whether Beckham would give up his starting position.
“I think Russell will certainly have his niche,” Miles said. “There are enough touches in a game to have both him and Beckham see the ball plenty.”
Studrawa said that Shepard, who did not miss a practice during his three-game suspension, has been worked into the game plan and will be a big factor when the Tigers travel to West Virginia this weekend.
“He is another weapon that they can’t cover man-to-man, and he can stretch the field,” Studrawa said. “It will be fun to get him involved from the word go.”
No matter what Shepard’s role is, Beckham’s statement has been made through production, something Shepard has been hit or miss with during his three years in Baton Rouge.
And for Lee, who takes his team on the road for the third time in four games, production is what matters most.
“Odell has done a great job for us,” Lee said. “He’s a young player making big plays. We are going to keep going to him with the ball.”