Growing Up the Tennessee Way

Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith has come up the hard way. A lightly recruited offensive lineman from tiny Benton Academy, Beckwith has earned every thing he has. From a roster spot with the Bulldogs, to a spot on the punting team to a starting position on the offensive line, nothing has been given to #66. Beckwith appears to wear all of that like a badge of honor.

Beckwith's path from invited to walk on to SEC starter is one that he had to walk alone, but the talented sled pusher had some help along the way thanks to the wisdom imparted to him by a great man who was better known for where he was from rather than his given name given at birth.

Monroe Attkisson was a young man born into humble beginnings. The man they grew to call "Tennessee" wore a lot of hats, touched a lot of lives and showed his family the value in hard work and self reliance.

"My grandparents lived in Tennessee and they grew up there," said Beckwith. "No matter where they moved, my grandmother said everybody called him that. His name was Monroe, which is kind of a weird name. People just called him that guy from Tennessee and it just sort of stuck with him through the years.

"They moved quite a bit before they settled in Mississippi. I guess people can't always remember names, but they can remember where you're from."

Where you're from. That seems to always seems to stay with you. Around the state of Mississippi, folks can earn a nickname by just simply being from somewhere else. A Louisiana transplant might be called "Gumbo" with or without their consent and anybody from well, any big city immediately becomes a "city slicker".

Ben Beckwith is from Benton, Mississippi, a small community in the sticks of Yazoo County. Folks just call him Ben, but long before he was a two time SEC offensive lineman of the week, he and his brother were the main attraction to their grandfather when it was time to play a ball game.

"It didn't matter if it was baseball, football or whatever. He never missed a game," said Beckwith. "Even when my brother was coming up, he played baseball in college at Northwest (Community College) and Delta State. He never missed any of that.

"He was big in our lives and big growing up. He never wanted to miss any of that. He always had us out at his place on the river. He taught us a lot about hardships and about life. He didn't baby us at all. He made us men when we were young. He made us do stuff. We had to learn how to fiddle with 4 wheelers and dogs. He taught us about how to deal with life when we were young, so we didn't have to wait until we were older and have to learn it the hard way."

Just as the college recruiting process was beginning for Beckwith, the man who played such a huge role in his life was gone. Suddenly, the man who served as a mentor, a hunting buddy, a role model and friend was gone.

"He passed away just before the last game of my junior season in high school," said Beckwith. "It's been seven years now. When he passed away it was big in my little town. In Benton, we just have two stop signs and everybody knew him. We have the little gas station there where all of the old men shot the bull in the morning before they all went their own way. He was a big part of all of that and of our town."

Those early morning discussions turned to talk of what a community had lost with the passing of one of it's most popular and well respected elders.

"It was just crazy, because he had been retired for four or five years," explained Beckwith. "He worked hard so that he could retire early and just enjoy his life. He got West Nile before and I think that just made his whole body weak. He ended up having a heart attack and it was just a surprise, because he was as healthy as an ox."

Tennessee may have retired from working, but he was not content to sit outside on the porch rocker and watch the time go by. Despite not having anywhere to be other than where he wanted, he stayed active.

"He was always out doing stuff. He would get out and run dogs out at our place in the delta," shared Beckwith. "I think that's one of the things that hurt us all the most is that it caught us all off guard.

"You know we had him just across the street and maybe we just sort of took all of that for granted, because we saw him every single day. When he was taken away from us, it just hurt us all. He was always there for everything. Not seeing him around and not having him a part of things hurt everybody in town."

Despite the fact that Tennessee never purchased a ticket to see his grandson play at Davis Wade Stadium or another of the famed SEC venues, Beckwith believes his hero is still there, somewhere.

He is still a part of it.

"I feel like he's still watching down on me," said Beckwith. "Even though he's not here anymore, I still feel like he's getting to watch me live my dream. He knew that my dream was to come and prove that I could play football in the SEC.

"He always told me that he knew I could do it. He didn't care where I was going to play. He said he would always be there to watch me. He loved all of this and he believed in me and I believe that's one of the reasons that I believed in myself."

A quiet, country confidence was just one of the attributes Tennessee instilled in his grandson. Beckwith learned how to blaze his own and not wait for an easier, softer way.

"He was hard on you now," said Beckwith. "He wasn't the kind of grandfather who was going to baby you. He was going to get you out there and make you get your hands dirty. He would teach you how to run the dogs, how to put shock collars on, teach you how to hunt and how to skin deer.

"He was going to get your hands dirty and he would teach you how to depend on yourself. If I took off on the four wheeler, he would just let me go. If I got it stuck, then he would make me figure out how to get it out."

The same man who would push Beckwith to learn how to do it also taught him why you did it. He also taught him that it was okay to slow down and enjoy life.

"He still had a soft side," said Beckwith. "We had a Baskin and Robbins in town and he would take me to get ice cream when I was a kid. He would do all of that kind of stuff too.

"These days people say that kids are babied all of that, but he wasn't going to let us be that way. He expected us to be able to do things on our own. When he was growing up, he didn't have a lot. He had to sort of grow up the hard way.

"I was blessed to grow up with parents and grandparents that could get me stuff, but I wasn't spoiled. He always wanted me to know that I never had to want for anything, but I needed to appreciate the fact that the people around me had to work hard to provide all of that for me."

While Beckwith had more of a head start at life than Tennessee did, the talented senior sees a lot of parallels between his time at Mississippi State and the direction his grandfather's life took when he too was becoming a man.

"I think my career at Mississippi State has sort of played out like his entire life did," said Beckwith. "He started off in construction telling my grandmother that she was never going to have to want for anything.

"He promised her that he was going to work hard, so they could have a good life. He did it too.

"He worked from the bottom just like I did. He worked his way up and proved everybody wrong. He was able to retire when he was about 50. You just don't hear about people doing that these days.

"All he every heard was that you can't do this or you can't do that. He came from a poor background, but me made it.

"I came from small school and worked my way up from the grit and grime of special teams trying to get respect from coaches.

"My grandfather started with nothing, worked construction and then made it in the business world. I feel like our lives have sort of worked out the same way.

"The way that he lived his life and the way that he raised me to be made me work hard to achieve my dream. I feel like I was able to do all of that, because of the things that he taught me about life, about hard work and about never giving up."

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