CLINTON — Leaning against a brick wall in the East Feliciana High School gym, Urhonda Beckwith snapped to attention Wednesday at the marimba ringtone chirping from her iPhone.
Urhonda grinned, glancing over at her son, linebacker Kendell Beckwith, the top prospect in Louisiana. She tilted her phone to show him the caller: LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson. At 8:14 a.m. on National Signing Day, Wilson wanted to know where Beckwith’s signature was.
Instead of answering, Urhonda handed the phone to Kendell, who swiped his thumb across the screen and raised it to his ear.
“What’s up, Old School?” Beckwith asked.
Thirty seconds of silence followed, and Beckwith’s smirk flattened. Wilson, long considered one of the nation’s best recruiters, was curious as to the hold-up.
Beckwith’s presence in the gym was the best answer. He’d been sitting behind a desk for an hour, watching highlights of his teammates. Now, pulling the phone away, Kendell handed it over to Urhonda, who took her turn pacing and listening intently to Wilson.
“We’re going to get it in to you,” Urhonda said.
Kendell, clad in khakis, a white shirt and gold tie under a purple sweater-vest, propped himself against the wall. He glanced over to his father, Wendell Beckwith, who could only shake his head as he filled in the door frame to the gym.
As it turned out, Wilson’s nudging call was for the sake of viewers on ESPN, which had Holly Rowe at LSU’s Football Operations Center, embedded with coach Les Miles’ staff as his recruiting class filled out.
“He said they’re on TV right now waiting,” Kendell said to his father.
“Are you serious?” Wendell answered.
For Kendell Beckwith, who selected LSU over Alabama on Jan. 4, his morning unfolded with an easy routine. He fed his horse. He got dressed. He needled his younger brother. Eventually, he made his decision official.
“I try to be low key. I’m not for all the attention too much,” Beckwith said. “I ain’t ever been that type of guy.”
Two hours earlier, Urhonda stepped out of the kitchen, turned left and softly knocked three times on the door to wake Kendell for his chief morning chore: feeding his filly, Spirit.
Turning into the serpentine driveway toward the Beckwiths’ home, a glimpse to the left shows a silvery white creature illuminated in early dawn, behind wire fence. Tending to Spirit is a welcome pastime.
“I just grew up loving them from birth,” he said, referring to horses. “I couldn’t even tell you when it really started.
Beckwith shuffled into the kitchen in black Nike slip-on sandals, black shocks, gray sweatpants and a purple longsleeve LSU shirt. He pulled open the back door and crossed the carport to a small garage behind the house.
A minute later, Beckwith efficiently prepared Spirit’s morning meal. He grabbed a dark green bucket and set it next to small bales of hay. Twenty yards away, Spirit let out a neigh, sensing chowtime. Next, Kendell poured in enough feed to line the bottom, then pulled two fistfuls of hay from the bale and laid them in the bucket.
“We let her out, but she don’t go nowhere,” Kendell said later. “She just hangs around the house. Every time I go outside, she comes up to me and I just feed her a peppermint or an apple.”
Quietly, he shuffled up the gravel driveway to a bin near the corner of the fenced pen, slowly pouring Spirit’s meal into a half-circle container.
He didn’t talk to her. He only watched her take the first couple of chomps to get started before he spun on his heel and trudged back to the house, dropping off the bucket along the way.
Odd as it sounds in hindsight, Spirit was a major hint that Beckwith probably wouldn’t venture four or five hours away to Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama or LSU?
Ten months ago, Beckwith was leaning toward the Crimson Tide.
“They’ve got a certain track, and they’ll hold you to that,” Beckwith said of Nick Saban and his fabled process. “If you do that, you’ll almost put yourself in a position to be in the NFL.”
The recruitment of Kendell took on the same meaning: Losing the state’s best recruit would put a serious dent in the notion that Miles & Co. had erected a fence around the talent-rich state, particularly along Interstate 10 corridor. By last summer, Kendell admitted he was conflicted after attending each team’s individual camps in June.
Yet Wendell professed to have early insight into his son’s ultimate choice: deciding to breed Spirit. With a foal slated to arrive in May, Wendell couldn’t see his middle son venturing off to Alabama and leaving behind his chief responsibility.
“You ain’t got nothing to worry about,” Wendell recalled telling LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis this summer.
Despite Alabama’s early allure, Kendell slowly gravitated back toward LSU, growing comfortable with the idea of playing linebacker in Chavis’ 4-3 defense, the fact he could study forestry as part of the school’s agriculture program and the 45-minute drive from Clinton.
“It was a good visit (to Alabama), but it just wasn’t for me,” Beckwith said. “Four hours wasn’t really that bad, but I’ve got one an hour away. They’re basically the same schools, similar programs, but just different styles.”
‘We have a problem’
At 8:20 a.m. Wednesday, though, there was the small matter of binding Kendell to LSU for the next four years.
Filing into the main office, Wendell settled into a folding chair near the door. Kendell sat on an old desk near the faculty mailboxes. Urhonda and Anderson were close in tow, shuffling through papers for the Beckwith clan to sign.
“You have your copies?” Anderson asked Urhonda.
Urhonda paused. She furrowed her brow and pondered the question before the potentially groan-inducing answer spilled out. She sighed.
“I left it at the house,” she said.
Wendell chuckled, and Kendell drooped his head before frowning. It’s a 40-minute round trip. And, seemingly on cue, Urhonda’s phone rang again. It was Frank Wilson.
“Coach, we have a problem,” Urhonda told him. “Could you fax or email some blank scholarship papers?”
Hanging up, Urhonda told Anderson they need to go grab the letter of intent, scholarship agreement and other papers off her email as an attachment.
“They’re going to be so mad at you,” Kendell said, needling his mother. Urhonda shot back with a stare.
Earlier in the morning, though, Urhonda doted on her son.
Standing in the middle of his bedroom, Beckwith finished stuffing his shirttail into a pair of khakis. Beckwith adjusted his tie, then pulled on a purple sweater-vest, an LSU logo on the left breast.
The process of selecting shoes consumed the next 10 minutes, drawing critiques from Urhonda and Justin. This is no small matter, because Beckwith is a self-admitted sneaker-head whose closet is filled top-to-bottom with orange Nike shoeboxes.
He emerged with the boat shoes.
“That looks nice,” Urhonda said of the throwback basketball shoe.
Making it official
In the main office at East Feliciana High, Anderson finally handed Kendell his paperwork.
Getting to that point was a pain.
First, the printer in his own office didn’t work. Neither did a second one in the office, and the printer necessary for copies ran low on ink. However, the paper was legible enough to read, grasp and sign.
“Is it time to sign?” Kendell asked his coach.
“Yeah, it is,” Anderson answered.
“I changed my mind,” Kendell joked. Then he took the blue Bic pen in his right hand.
This gag wasn’t too far off from one he pulled on his parents a week before playing in the Under Armor All-America Game, where he assembled the entire family — including brother Wendell Beckwith, who was home from Tulane — to let them know his ultimate decision.
“At first, I told them it was Alabama,” Beckwith said, “just to see how they reacted.”
The bit failed, and Kendell quickly came clean: He was staying put and heading to Baton Rouge.
Wednesday morning, Kendell knelt over each piece of paper and signed deliberately. First, the scholarship agreement. Second, a document from the SEC attesting to a grant-in-aid being awarded. And finally, his letter of intent.
“It’s like you’re about to buy a house,” Linda Wicker, the office secretary cracked.
“Close to it,” Urhonda said.