No, this big Bulldog doesn’t rattle often or easily. Beckwith proved it first, and maybe most, just by forcing his way onto the Mississippi State roster as a walk-on out of Benton Academy four years ago. Then when shoved into unexpected starting duty last season after an opening-day injury, the new right guard shoved right back as part of Coach John Hevesy’s revamped front line.
Now here he is, an established member of a SEC blocking corps preparing for the senior season. A year Beckwith intends to make not just his last in a Bulldog uniform, but the very best for this entire 2014 team. Though, he acknowledged, much remains to be done once preseason practices open on July 30 with some pieces yet to find their places on the offensive line…and the potential for some practice moves during camp.
Besides, there is more than the usual summer buzz this time. Some suggest Mississippi State as a dark-horse (dark Dog?) sort of contender for an unsettled SEC West. That’s well and good, Beckwith agrees, but otherwise…
Ben Beckwith: “Oh, we just take it day by day. You know, just every day try to get better. Our expectations are real high as a group and individually we have our goals. But we don’t talk about them a lot. This year has a real tight-knit team and we’ve done a lot of stuff together, we just don’t talk about it a lot. We just go out and try to get better. We can kind of see it between us but we don’t like to talk about it. You know, hype, some people take it the wrong way.”
At the same time you have to appreciate the increased respect for State this season?
“Oh yeah, it’s nice to see. Sometimes people look over you, even as a person I know coming up I kind of got overlooked a lot and have proven myself. It’s always nice to get recognized. But holding that trophy up and showing that the hype was real will mean a lot more.”
How has this summer gone for yourself and the linemen?
“It’s gone real good. We’ve got a really tight group like I said, the whole team is probably the most tight-knit we’ve had since we’ve been here. Everybody gets along, there’s really not much argument. Not a lot a chirpiness, of course there is a little every now and then; DBs and receivers, I mean they go at it! But as a whole I think we have a good group and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people with our group this year. I think a lot of people don’t, I wouldn’t say don’t expect a lot out of us (the offensive line) but don’t really give us a lot of recognition. We’ve got a lot of really solid guys on the o-line.”
Is there a ‘chirpy’ offensive lineman in this group?
”Ahh, no. It’s kind of like we’re laid-back. Sometimes we will get it going in two-a-days in stuff and it gets kind of heated every now and then.”
“It’s nice, it’s two young quarterbacks and a big…I don’t want to say! I just had a guy behind me rubbing on my back and belly. You just keep talking, you don’t get rattled!”
”But like you were saying, we’ll get chirpy every now and then. You get a lot of big guys around that are real confident and there will be chirpiness and stuff. But we’re tight-knit, we’ve got a really good group and I think it’s going to be some stuff that surprise people this year. I don’t want to give away any surprises but I think we’re going to produce a lot of big plays.”
”We feel really confident, we feel really good, but seeing all the support we have…that pushes us a lot more because we don’t want to let anybody down.”
An All-American, Gabe Jackson, is gone; and Charles Siddoway did a great job with a bad back last year. At the same time this is a pretty veteran group of linemen?
”Exactly. Even last year, getting thrown into the fire early on with Malone going down, I got injured going into the Kentucky game and that’s when Jamaal came in. So he’s got experience, Malone is going to come back. I think there will be some different spots people are going to be playing. That’s what are going to be some surprises, I think we’re going to go into camp and figure out a lot of the spots that people are talking about.”
”I mean in the media and stuff we have these (question) spots but after camp it’s going to be settled and everybody is going to compete. We’ve got a lot competition which makes you work a lot harder when somebody is pushing you.”
Right, Coach Hevesy has said this summer some changes will get tried, like Malone competing at tackle?
”Like I said, I don’t want to speak of something, you never know what could happen. Anyone could make a push in camp or start or do anything, but in the back of your head you kind of know. You walk with Coach Mullen, you walk with Coach Hevesy, and they kind of put it into your mind. They tell me, Dillon, Blaine, the veteran guys what his plans are for the season and you don’t ever want to give away anything like that. But like you were saying, there’s going to be some stuff people might not expect. As a whole we’re going to be pretty solid.”
”And it’s pretty cool, this isn’t even in the subject but me, Jamaal and Malone were talking how three academy guys could potentially start on the O-line. And that’s just crazy! Because playing in a small private school nobody ever expects you to do much, and then you’re playing at the highest level of college football and three of us small school guys are here together. Which is crazy, and Hevesy always picks on the academy guys, he always messes with us! But it’s all fun and games. And it’s all about getting your job done, whoever can get it done the best.”
”At the end of the day I love all my guys, and I love when people push me. I’ve been trying to push people my whole time here so I know competition has nothing to do with do you like them. Malone and I were talking the other day and we said we’re going to do whatever it takes to do what I’ve got to do. Me, Jamaal, all the linemen were talking about it. Competition is competition, you didn’t come here to just be given something. You’ve got to work.”
If y’all three academies had played a jamboree back in school which one’s team would have won?
”Oh, we’d have got smoked because we were a 1A and I had like 35 people on my team! Heck I think MRA and JA played all the time and they could tell you more about that! But I went to a small country school so it wouldn’t have been a competition!”
You’re honest at least. Who is the strongest lineman in the weightroom this summer?
”It’s got to be Jamaal. He’s really strong. When he came in I mean he was a big guy, had the build to be a strong guy. But you never know until you see somebody get down on the bench. He’s really, really strong. Which everybody talks about him being like Gabe, the similarities.”
Does the group ever give Justin grief about being a basketball player first, then football?
“Well, we joked about it—after the season of course—that you go your whole career playing basketball and never hurt your ankle, then the first game of the season you go out there and hurt your ankle in a football game! He should have worn high-tops, so we give him a little crap about that. But it’s all fun and games.”
“We all know the end goal. This year is my senior year and we have a lot of veteran seniors, one of the best senior classes in my knowledge growing up watching State football and football in general. We have a really strong, solid senior class and we just want to leave a mark. We want to be known as a team, we don’t have a guys who want to be known as individuals. I mean they want to make a name and stuff but at the end of the day we’re all trying to do this as a whole.”
What is the deal with Dillon adding some blue highlights to his hair? Is that because he has that bright blue truck?
”Well, we live together so there’s a lot of competition there. We both drive big trucks. I mean it’s kind of weird, we’ve been living together ever since freshman year in dorms. We moved in together and noticed a lot of similarities. I’m a country guy, and he likes to hunt. He has his own image, I have my own image, but he definitely loves the hair and doing crazy stuff. I just grew mine out and let it be.”
What brand truck is yours?
”I have a GMC. He’s a Ford guy, so we are similar but we have different lives, you know?!”