Kendell Beckwith has played seven positions in his football career.
He’s played quarterback, defensive end, outside linebacker, middle linebacker, running back, receiver and tight end.
His high school coach at East Feliciana, Cedric Anderson, said there’s no place he couldn’t play.
“He was a very aggressive blocker,” Anderson said with a laugh. “He probably could have played on the (offensive) line if we needed him to.”
For the first time in his football-playing life, Beckwith is playing one position: middle linebacker. He’s playing it well, too – at least good enough for coaches to thrust him into the lineup.
In a tight battle for the past two months with senior D.J. Welter, Beckwith appears to have surpass the veteran. Coach Les Miles said Monday that Beckwith would “play most” of the snaps at middle linebacker the rest of the season.
Miles declined to name Beckwith the starter when LSU (4-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) meets Florida (3-1, 2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, but it’s clear that he’s usurped Welter for the lead role.
A lot of position shifts, play-call studying and physical preparation has paid off for the 6-foot-2, 240-pound sophomore.
“It makes me feel good,” Beckwith said. “Makes me want to continue getting better.”
The personnel switch at the most important position on LSU’s defense may not be a miracle cure for a unit suffering through one of its worst seasons in the past decade.
Beckwith has struggled just like every other defender. In fact, against Auburn, he was lured out of the middle of the field and slow to react on quarterback Nick Marshall’s 29-yard touchdown run.
Beckwith graded himself a “C” for his play last week.
Still, Miles said Beckwith brings an “athletic advantage” to the defense, and players said they expect him to give the Tigers a boost.
“Kendall’s stepping up,” linebacker Lamar Louis said. “He’s answering the call. I think he’s going to bring even more speed and possibly more physicality.”
Beckwith could get his first career start against a familiar opponent. LSU beat Florida last season 17-6 in a game in which Beckwith made a win-securing sack-fumble.
On a fourth down-and-27, Beckwith, lined up at defensive end, made a move on left tackle D.J. Humphries and smacked Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy.
At that point, LSU coaches stopped double-training Beckwith at strong-side linebacker and defensive end.
“I went straight to D-end,” he said. “I played D-end for the rest of the year.”
Coaches gave him the option to return to linebacker, and Beckwith took it. It’s what he always wanted to be, Anderson said: a starting major-college linebacker.
He returned to linebacker during practice for the Outback Bowl, but coaches switched him from strong-side to middle, a key spot.
Middle linebacker is more cerebral than most defensive positions. The middle linebacker gets the defensive call from the sideline — “There are a lot of them,” Beckwith said — barks it to the defense and then aligns the defensive line.
Beckwith spent the past nine months learning the position and dropping 10 pounds.
It wasn’t easy. He used index cards — and his 16-year-old brother — to help him through the process this summer.
“I had my little brother call them out,” he said, “and I’d tell him what they were.”
Beckwith’s focus on one position has cleared his head and slowed down the game, Anderson said. The coach expected this to happen: for Beckwith to take over at middle linebacker.
He’s a competitive, smart and driven individual, Anderson said, a guy who decides on a goal and does anything to attain it.
Beckwith, in ninth grade, told Anderson that he’d be starting opposite his older brother at defensive end that season. Sure, the coach thought.
He did, of course, and he was known for mowing down offensive linemen — as a 15-year-old.
“One team (we played) liked to pull two guards,” Anderson said. “It was like dominoes. He hit the first guard, went to the second and knocked the running back down.”
As a quarterback, Beckwith could throw a ball 70-plus yards and was accurate, Anderson said. LSU was one of a host of schools, at least at first, to offer Beckwith a scholarship as a quarterback, the coach said.
Beckwith had his mind set on one position: linebacker. LSU and Alabama, his two finalists, offered him as a stand-up defensive end or a line-crowding outside linebacker.
Here he is today in another position entirely. Go figure.
Hopefully, there are no more moves.
“It’s very comfortable having that one position,” Beckwith said. “One thing to focus on.”