Florida transfer fired up to play at U after three years out

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2011 - 12:52 AM

Brendan Beal has gone from a nationally recruited prospect to a second-string linebacker with the Gophers, but he is just happy to get to play.

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Gophers linebacker Brendan Beal was part of a national champ at Florida in 2008, although he was injured.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, DML - Star Tribune

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He grew up watching legendary Penn State linebackers, and cheering for Boston College, where his father played.

He signed with Florida and the best coach in the land, Urban Meyer, turning down USC, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Miami, if not every prominent college football program in the country.

So what is Brendan Beal doing at the University of Minnesota, practicing with the second-team linebackers for a coach who didn't recruit him?

"I'm the old rookie now," he said. "And it's a lot of fun."

Raised in the recruiting hotbed of Pennsylvania, Beal became a Parade All-America and a USA Today first-team All-America.

He played in the same U.S. Army All-America Bowl as Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray and joined the Gators in 2008 envisioning national titles and an NFL future.

Then he blew out an anterior cruciate ligament in August 2008, and he missed the 2009 season as well because of the knee injury. He transferred to Minnesota to play for Tim Brewster and sat out the 2010 season per NCAA rules. He's a sophomore in terms of eligibility.

"My whole life, I didn't think I'd end up here," Beal said. "But it's a blessing in disguise, I believe, and now I've got a huge chip on my shoulder. I'm out to prove to the world what I can do and what I am and what I bring to the table."

Beal wants to prove he's a four-course meal -- big, strong, fast and studied. He's 6-3 and 245 pounds, with arms that scream "Big Ten linebacker."

"He has some ability," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. "He's got really good straight-ahead speed. We've got to work on his lateral movement.

"Can he make the plays on the bubble screen, and out in space? Those linebackers have to be a different breed these days. They have to do so much."

For Kill to succeed as a Big Ten coach, he's going to need to unearth a few surprises.

Glen Mason and his staff were capable of taking lesser recruits and turning them into conference standouts, especially at the positions of offensive line, tight end and running back.

Brewster was capable of luring a few players with raw talent to the U, although few have performed well on game days.

Kill will probably need to succeed at both approaches. If a blue chip like Beal can turn into a standout, Kill will be one player closer to fielding a competitive team.

"I will say this: He's better right now than he was in the spring," Kill said. "I said, 'You're stiff, you've got to get looser,' and he did everything he could this summer to get better. We really need him to come through. That would really help our football team."

Beal doesn't even need to rush. The Gophers' defensive strength is linebacker depth. Senior Gary Tinsley and juniors Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are the current starters, with Tinsley ahead of Beal in the middle.

Beal knows that his father, Craig, expects to see him at the top of the depth chart.

"He pushed me my whole life," Beal said. "I'd be looking up into the stands, every play I'm looking up and he's correcting me. We're breaking down film together and he's got the red light out.

"It was great having a mentor like him growing up. Since I was a little kid, I've been a linebacker."

He didn't plan to play in Minnesota or for Kill, but here he is, with a chance to play a season opener against USC.

After another hectic practice under Kill, Beal said: "It's go, go, go, and the two-huddles thing he does, I haven't seen that before, even when I was at Florida.

"I know the first few days we were pretty gassed, but we're starting to get used to it. And I think that's only going to help us out in the long run, because when we're in that fourth quarter with USC, we're going to pull it out."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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