As East St. Louis defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. launched into opening remarks Wednesday live on ESPNU, his emotions caught him off guard and tears streamed down his cheeks.
“I don’t know to explain it, because I wasn’t expecting for them to come,” Beckner said. “It was kind of out of nowhere, but when I started talking that’s when they came.”
Beckner, who committed to Missouri and then signed less than two hours later, is a notoriously quiet person, but his game speaks quite loudly.
Beckner, the reigning St. Louis Post-Dispatch all-metro defensive player of the year, totaled an astounding 116 tackles, including 74 solo stops, with three sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception as a senior.
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ESPN ranked Beckner as the second-best prospect in the nation and the No. 1 defensive tackle. It gave him a five-star rating as did 247 Sports, which lists Beckner as the No. 3 defensive tackle and No. 8 player overall.
Rivals and Scout gave Beckner a four-star grade, but both recruiting services list him among the top 40 players in the 2015 recruiting class.
He’s 6-feet-4 inches and nearly 300 pounds with surprising speed and agility for a man of his size.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel might be forgiven if he shed a few tears when Beckner picked up a Missouri pennant shortly before 10 a.m., signaling that he’d play at MU instead of Florida State, Ohio State or Auburn.
“Mizzou has been here since his sophomore year,” East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said. “He’s developed a great relationship with them. That’s not to say he hasn’t with everyone else. He’s developed a great relationship with Florida State also. I really thought it was between those two universities.”
Ultimately, Sunkett believes that the dogged persistence by Pinkel and cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford, who is the program’s primary recruiter in St. Louis, paid off.
“Terry felt comfortable there,” Sunkett said. “It’s not an in-state school, but it is an in-state school for us. It’s a local school, and he’s going to represent our area well.”
Sunkett believes Missouri’s proximity was a major factor, saying Beckner is something of a homebody and wouldn’t want to be too far from his family.
Beckner said it really came down to fir for him.
“I just followed where my heart told me to go,” he said on the ESPNU broadcast.
He later added, “I was going to go wherever I felt comfortable, and that’s where I felt most comfortable.”
Missouri has long been considered the front-runner to land Beckner, but staff upheaval gave Beckner a wandering eye.
Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s departure in mid-December, when he accepted the head coaching job at Missouri State, gave Beckner pause.
When rumors surfaced that defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was considering a jump to Illinois as co-defensive coordinator, Beckner “really got worried,” Sunkett said. “That’s when I believe the bar started tilting toward Ohio State and Florida State even more.”
Kuligowski announced last week that he had decided to stay at Missouri, a decision that eased Beckner’s mind and solidified that MU was the place for him, Sunkett said.
“It played a little factor,” Beckner said of Kuligowski. “He’s a great coach, and he knows what he’s doing. I respect him a lot. He’s a really good guy.”
Kuligowski also has a reputation for developing players and maximizing their talent. He helped mold Michael Sam and Shane Ray into back-to-back SEC defensive players of the year.
Kuligowski also groomed three first-round NFL Draft picks — 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Jaguars defensive end Ziggy Hood.
Sunkett said Beckner needs to play with a better motor at Missouri. He won’t be able to take plays off against lesser competition like he could in high school.
“On that level, you’ve got to have that motor that never stops,” Sunkett said. “You’ve got to want to make every play. When he gets focused on that, when he wants to be involved in every play, every snap, that’s what’s going to take him over the top.”
For now, Sunkett and Beckner are just glad the craziness of the recruiting process is finished.
“These past 48 hours have been very tough,” Sunkett said. “You’ve got Ohio State, Mizzou, Florida State and Auburn calling every five minutes wondering, ‘Are we the university? Is he going to choose us?’ So, yeah, it got hectic over these past 48 hours. I’m glad it’s over with and I’m sure now, Terry, he can sleep and he can prepare for his next dream now.”