On a sunny Saturday morning, Corbin Berkstresser looks to his right and perks up.Dorial Green-Beckham is lined up in the slot against a linebacker?
That’s not even fair.
Berkstresser, Missouri’s backup quarterback, takes the snap and watches the Tigers’ 6-foot-6, 220-pound freshman receiver beat the linebacker with a double move. Berkstresser launches the ball 40 yards or so down the right sideline and sees it drop perfectly in Green-Beckham’s outstretched hands.
Touchdown. No doubt.
“Dorial is a natural athlete,” Berkstresser said. “He’s so smooth … my job is to get the ball to him after he does all the cool stuff.”
So far this camp, the nation’s top recruit has done a lot of that. Whether it’s making one-handed catches or making like former Tigers star Jeremy Maclin in eluding defenders on screen passes, there’s no doubt one of MU’s most vaunted recruits has the talent to live up to lofty expectations.
“He’s really stepped up a bit,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s doing less thinking and he’s doing more reacting. We see him make more and more plays each and every single day.”
Senior receiver T.J. Moe said Green-Beckham’s talent is a combination of the best attributes of recent MU receivers.
“He’s got the strides of a guy like Danario (Alexander),” Moe said, “but he’s also a little quicker, like me, like J-Mac (Maclin), like some of the guys that have been able to get open underneath.
“He’s just tough to cover. He’s got real fluid hips and he’s catching the ball a lot better recently. … If his hands really come along, then he’s going to be something to reckon with this season.”
Missouri’s coaching staff has been careful not to burden Green-Beckham with unfair expectations. But it’s not every day you get a chance to develop a rare talent and show him off on a national stage.
“When you have the best player in the nation, who decides to stay home and go to Mizzou when he could have gone anywhere he wanted to,” Pinkel said, “that’s mammoth.”
David Yost has been in college football long enough to know one of the golden rules of recruiting: never take anything for granted.
So as Yost, Missouri’s offensive coordinator, sat in safeties coach Alex Grinch’s office on signing day in February, waiting for Green-Beckham’s big announcement, time began to move slowly. Someone on the TV predicted the Springfield recruit would end up at Arkansas, and Yost stewed.
“I was like, ‘How could he could he go to Arkansas?’” Yost said.
Yost and receivers coach Andy Hill had pulled out all the stops to lure Green-Beckham, one of the best players the state had produced in years. It’s easy to forget how much time and effort coaches put into recruiting; when Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo learned he’d lost out on Detroit prep star Chris Webber 20 years ago, he wept.
“If you’re not first, you’re last in recruiting,” Yost said. “Finishing second supposedly makes you feel a little bit better, but it probably makes you feel worse, because that means you were so close and still didn’t get them.”
That’s why, when Green-Beckham slipped on a black snapback Mizzou hat with a gold brim that February day, Yost and the rest of the staff exploded with high-fives and fist pumps. Not only did they get their man, the Tigers sent a message that they were ready to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“Our idea is if we can get 80 percent or better of the in-state guys — and really, 100 percent would be great — in Missouri, generally, that’s where our greatest players are from,” said Hill, who recruits Kansas City. “So we’re just trying to keep the best guys here. It was big for us to compete and have a chance at Dorial.”
To see that, all one needs to do is look at Missouri’s current recruiting class. The Tigers have commitments from 10 of the top 16 prospects in the state, according to Rivals.com, and of the six who remain, Lee’s Summit West’s Jamone Boyd is still in play and three others never received offers.
“If the guy who is from Springfield, Mo., who can go any place in the country, can do it, why can’t you?” Hill said, mimicking the pitch the staff now uses.
The success of St. Louis-area players Maclin and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, two five-star talents who became first-round NFL Draft picks, also offer shining examples of what Missouri can do for potential recruits. Green-Beckham could join that list, provided he lives up to the hype.
“When we’re talking to recruits down the road,” Yost said, “(we) can say, ‘See, the No. 1 guy in the country came to us and he was successful: we used him to the utmost of his ability and it was a great experience for him. You can have those same things.’”
But there is a flip side, Yost said. Have a couple of touted recruits fail to live up to their potential, and other schools will use that against you.
“It does come back (to bite you),” Yost said, “because if you don’t bring it up, other coaches do. It’s all part of the recruiting game.”
Pinkel has handled Green-Beckham’s first month on campus carefully. For the first time, Pinkel prohibited freshmen from talking to the media aside from one day at camp. Perhaps it was his way of keeping Green-Beckham from feeling overwhelmed.
“My big thing is, I just want people to stay away from him and let him focus on being a good football player,” Pinkel said.
It’s more than just that, however.
“I recruited him, so I feel responsible to his parents that he’s successful,” Yost said. “I want to make sure he’s got his degree when he’s done playing here, and that he’s had a great career and a great experience here and feels a part of our family.
“And then, anything on top of that — him making plays, scoring touchdowns, all these things — that’s bonus stuff that comes with being a football player.”
Green-Beckham seems to get that message. It is not uncommon to see Hill motivating Green-Beckham during practice — about blocking, about route-running … anything.
“There’s going to be points where we get yelled at, where we do something wrong, because that’s what freshmen go through,” Green-Beckham said. “That’s the difference of us coming from high school to here, to learn all those fundamentals.”
He later added that there’s a lot being thrown at him in the playbook. But by all accounts, he has started to pick it up, which has allowed him to start playing faster and get more work with the first team.
“He’s getting comfortable now,” Berkstresser said. “With any freshman coming in, there’s a lot to learn in the spread offense. And at first, when you don’t know what’s going on, your reactions are a little slow. But once you know the offense, it becomes natural.”
With so much at stake, Green-Beckham will continue to be pushed. The coaching staff knows his ceiling and is determined to help him reach it.
“We’ve had some success at receiver, some guys that have been top-level guys, and he’s on par with where those guys were early in their careers,” Hill said. “I think of Danario Alexander, Jeremy Maclin and Will Franklin … their junior, senior years, those are top-end years.
“But if I think back to their freshmen years, there were a lot of things they needed to (work on) … playing hard, playing fast, catching balls, doing the right angles. All that stuff is just an ongoing, day-to-day process. So that’s where we are, and I feel real good about where he is right now.”