If LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. seems unusually well prepared to excel in college football as a true freshman, it’s because he is.
First there are the genes. His father, Odell Beckham Sr., played running back for the Tigers from 1989-92, and his mother, Heather Van Norman, was an All-America track runner at LSU from 1991-93 and helped lead the Tigers to five national championships.
On top of that, when Beckham arrived on campus during the summer, he started laying the groundwork for an eye-catching pass-catching freshman season.
He sought out several veteran players for guidance, including cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who like Beckham is from New Orleans, and who had had the standout type of true freshman season last year that Beckham envisioned for himself this year.
“I asked Tyrann during the summer because I watched him last year as a young player making a bunch of plays and he’s just a phenomenal player and I wanted to do what he did,” Beckham said. “He took me through it.”
Beckham picked good footsteps to follow when he zeroed in on Mathieu, who forced five fumbles, recovered three fumbles, broke up seven passes, made 4.5 sacks, and had two interceptions as a freshman.
“He’s going to be great for the simple fact that he wants to be great,” Mathieu said of Beckham. “I remember him coming in this summer, and he just wanted to work with me. He just wanted to be great, and I think it pays off in the end.”
Beckham might not be great just yet, but he sure has done pretty well for the top-ranked Tigers as they have rolled to victories in their first five games. He leads the team with 20 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown. He is also ranked 10th in the Southeastern Conference at 53.6 yards per game.
“I could tell he was going to be a special guy by the way he worked, how hard he worked during the summer,” junior cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “He wanted to learn different things. He’ll come and ask the corners questions about how you’re playing me and this and that. You could tell he was going to be special.”
Quarterback Jarrett Lee said Beckham caught his eye early in preseason camp. Both started out as second string, meaning they worked together quite a bit in practice. Eventually, both moved up the depth chart, Lee replacing Jordan Jefferson when Jefferson was suspended for the first four games and Beckham getting more reps when junior receiver Russell Shepard was ineligible for the first three games.
“We had lot of plays together and that’s when I knew he was going to be a special player and a special player this season,” Lee said. “He’s a smart football player as a freshman. He’s made big plays for us. He just works hard, he prepares hard, he knows what he needs to do to be good and it pays off for him on Saturdays.”
Beckham had a modest debut in the season opener against Oregon, catching two passes for 10 yards, but he has had an increasingly bigger impact each game. The next week against Northwestern State he caught five passes for 40 yards, then caught eight for 61 yards against Mississippi State.
In Week 4 against West Virginia, Beckham found the end zone for the first time on a 52-yard pass from Lee. His only other reception gained 30 yards. Last week against Kentucky, Beckham caught three passes for 75 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown. On the scoring play, the final 39 yards came on a zig-zagging run where more than half of the Wildcats defenders had a chance to stop him.
“Crafty little guy,” coach Les Miles said of Beckham. “He gets the ball in his hands and he can make you miss.”
Beckham said his father has been teaching him how to make defenders miss for a long time.
“We’ve been going over this since I was three years old,” he said. “I’m trying to make plays. That’s what coach put me out there to do.”
LSU knew it was getting a playmaker when it recruited Beckham out of Newman High School. As a senior, Beckham caught 50 passes for 1,010 yards and 19 touchdowns, joining Cooper Manning as the only Greenie to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Additionally, Beckham rushed for 331 yards and six touchdowns, passed for 90 yards and a touchdown, returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 30 yards per punt return, in addition to making four interceptions as a cornerback.
“When we get the ball to him,” Miles said, “he is going to put his hands on it, will give you great run after the catch and he’s a tough guy. He is a guy that we ask to block for the run. He gives us the full spectrum of what we need from a wide receiver.”
Junior wide receiver Rueben Randle said what has impressed him most about Beckham is “just the fact that last year he was in high school and he’s coming out here and making it seem like nothing has changed.”