Catching Up With Kelvin Beachum: One of the NFL’s Good Guys

Catching Up With Kelvin Beachum: One of the NFL’s Good Guys

We recently sat down and had a conversation with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum to discuss everything from his rehab, to his personal life, to his football career, to his philanthropic work off the field.

Anytime the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field, it’s safe to assume that most of the 7,000 residents of the tiny rural town of Mexia, Texas are tuned in to watch their hometown hero, Kelvin Beachum, protect the blind side of future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After defying the odds throughout his high school and college careers, Beachum had seemingly solidified the left tackle position for the Steelers ever since a rash of injuries forced him into the Pittsburgh starting lineup as a rookie back in 2012.

Coming into the 2015 season, Beachum, who was a 7th round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, was set to play out the final year of his rookie contract with hopes of signing a life-changing contract extension during the 2016 offseason. And through the first five and a half games of the season, he was well on his way to landing the new deal he had rightfully earned over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, Beachum suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during the Steelers’ Week 6 win over the Arizona Cardinals, which effectively ended his 2015 season.

As little as 10 years ago, a torn ACL was often a career-threatening injury. Fortunately for Beachum, though, with the advances we have seen in modern medicine, high-level athletes are now able to come back from ACL injuries stronger than they were before. More importantly, due to the sub-par play of several of the offensive lines around the league, Beachum should have a hefty contract waiting for him this coming offseason.

Here at The Cheat Sheet we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Beachum about his rehab, his personal background, his football career, and some exciting things he has going on away from the football field.

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From Humble Beginnings…

Alright Kelvin, let’s start this out with an obvious question. How is your rehab going?

It’s going well. At first this biggest thing was dealing with the actual occurrence of the injury. You don’t want to believe that it happened, or believe that it was actually you that it occurred to. Once you can get past that, you kind of have to make your mind up to start pressing towards the goals. I set a goal or a marker for every day. It may not be significant to others, but it helps get me through the battle. It can be something simple like, ‘I want to be able to squeeze the quad harder than I did yesterday’ or ‘I want to have more flexion in my knee today than I did yesterday’. Every day there are new personal battles to overcome, and to be honest, the battle has been much more mental than physical up to this point.

It’s great to hear you that have a strong mindset going for you right now. How did growing up in the tiny rural town of Mexia, Texas help shape you into the man you are today?

It was a small town setting. Not too big, not too small. About 7,000 people. Very rural. It was a really close-knit community. Everybody knew each other and looked out for each other. Growing up in Mexia you have to remain humble. You come from a small beginning, and you can never forget where you come from. Even now with me being in the league, everybody knows who I am there and I still have a personal connection to a lot of people. There are several people who I either grew up playing sports with them or their brother, some were my teachers, I may have worked for their dad at some point. It was just the ultimate small town, hometown feel that Mexia had.

And then of course, on Friday nights football is huge in the state of Texas, so everybody followed and knew what I was doing on the football field. That’s just another one of those things that reminds me to never forget where I came from.

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I’m picturing a scene straight out of Friday Night Lights over here. Was there any part of you that saw athletics as a way out of Mexia?

You know, it was at the time. I mean at some point everybody wants to become a professional athlete playing in the NFL or playing in the NBA, but the reality is that not everybody is able to do that. So, my parents always stressed the value of education. They always insisted, ‘you’ve got to get a full-ride.’ They didn’t care if it was an athletic or academic scholarship. They just told me to find a way to get out of Mexia because they couldn’t afford to pay for me to go to college. It’s not that Mexia is a bad place or a terrible place to grow up, it’s just that there aren’t as many opportunities in Mexia as there would be in Dallas, Austin, or other places outside of Texas. I feel fortunate to have been able to get out of Mexia, but by no means do I want to make it sound like it was a prison or anything. I was just blessed to be able to use my athletic ability to find my way into a very prestigious college. Some people live their whole lives without ever knowing what exists outside of Mexia.

Was football always your first love?

It was basketball, man. Growing up I played way more basketball than I did football. I played AAU ball all through the summers. When the football season ended I would be on the basketball court the next day.

How did the college recruiting process play out for you? Did you have dreams of playing college basketball?

I had a coach during my time playing AAU ball that knew I also played football, that told me my best bet was to go get a football scholarship. He told me ‘there’s 11 guys on the football field and only five on the basketball court at a time, and knowing your athletic skillset and style of football you play, the best thing you could do is go down the football path.’ I just took that advice and ran with it.

As for the recruiting process, it was a lot different for me coming from such a small rural town. Prior to me, it had been 20 or 30 years since another athlete had been recruited heavily. I heard mostly from SMU, Iowa State, and pretty much every D-II and junior college in Texas, but I didn’t really have anyone to show me the ropes, tell me what to expect, or give me advice on how to talk to coaches.

Did the lack of attention from schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and TCU give you any kind of an extra chip on shoulder?

I don’t know if I’d say that, but I really don’t like those school to this day. When I see TCU lose and to see Baylor lose, I’m ecstatic. I’m absolutely loving it. I love seeing the University of Texas being down right now because as you know, I’m a Texas boy, and they never offered me, never even came to my school. It was a little hurtful and caused a bit of a rough patch for me. I mean Baylor was 40 minutes away from me. When my family would go bowling or go out to eat or go to the movies, or really anytime we went out to have a good time, Waco was the place to be, and I never even heard from Baylor. I never heard from Texas A&M, I never heard from Texas, I never heard from TCU. I didn’t even know SMU existed until they started recruiting me. Still to this day, and my wife is a Baylor grad, anytime I hear something about Baylor I talk as bad about them as I can. I don’t know if you’d call it a chip on my shoulder, but I just can’t stand those schools.

From a Small Town in Texas, to the NFL…

I bet the coaches at all of those schools wish they had a do-over at this point. Let’s shift our focus onto your football career now. As a four-year starter under June Jones, you were a big part of the revival of SMU football. Can you tell our readers how the culture of the program changed and evolved during your time there?

We just started having fun again. We’d come in, work hard and have fun and we all started to realize that SMU doesn’t have to be a losing program even if we became known for all of that ‘Death Penalty’ stuff. I remember hanging out with Emmanuel Sanders, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, on my recruiting visit and him telling me, ‘man, the only reason I came here was to make history.’ And that’s exactly what we did when June got there. We went to the Hawaii Bowl for the first time in 25 years and actually won the game and we put multiple winning seasons together for the first time in a long time. Going to a college with such rich tradition and making history is something that remains really special to me.

At what point during your college, or high school, career did you realize that a career in the NFL was a real possibility?

Every kid that plays any sport growing up wants to be a professional athlete. I think it really dawned on me when June Jones got to SMU. When June first saw me, he told me I could be a first round pick. Obviously I wasn’t a first round pick, but I’ve played like it in some instances. When guys like June or Dennis McKnight or Adrian Klemm tell you that you can be special and that you are going to be playing in the league for a long time it really means something. I have to give a lot of credit for where I am at today to Adrian, who was, and still is, my mentor and one of my best friends. He won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and back at SMU he would pull those things out and tell me I have what it takes to get one too, if I worked hard enough. That was something that meant a lot coming from a guy like him.

What was the NFL Combine and Pre-Draft process like for you?

It was interesting. I was getting my Master’s degree at the same time that I was training for the Combine. I actually had all of my books and everything I needed to complete my Master’s program with me when I was up with Indianapolis where I was training for the Combine. We would train twice a day, six days a week, and the rest of the time I was studying or doing homework.

It’s hard to understand and describe the process unless you get to go through it. People can tell you what to expect, but there is no way to be fully prepared for it. Let’s just say that I’m one of those people who believes in turning on the film and evaluating players based on how well they can actually play football. But at the same time, I was fortunate enough to get invited to the Combine. I still have my Combine shirt, my Combine shorts, the lanyard they gave us. A lot of guys don’t get that opportunity. It’s special to get invited, but it’s not the end all, be all.

I remember hanging out with Emmanuel Sanders, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, on my recruiting visit and him telling me, ‘man, the only reason I came here (SMU) was to make history.’ And that’s exactly what we did when June (Jones) got there.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Building off of the previous question, what was the weekend of the Draft was like for you?

It was long, man. I tried to do everything but watch the Draft. On the first night of the Draft I went and worked in my dad’s shop. We pulled a couple of transmissions and other things around the shop. On the second day, I pretty much hung around the house, playing with my brothers and sisters, not watching the Draft at all. On the third day, I went to a family reunion in Jacksonville, Texas and I started getting calls from scouts at the beginning of the day. They were saying things like ‘we’re going to find a way to get you here.’ My phone was blowing up with these calls all day, but nobody was taking me. After a while the phone calls turned into scouts talking about priority free agent deals. My agent and I had talked to eight or nine teams about free agent deals, and by that time I was getting a little teary-eyed about the whole situation. I had heard throughout the process about where teams projected me to be drafted, and to see that not happen takes something out of you. As soon as I had come to grips with the idea of being a priority free agent, the Steelers called.

Who called you from the Steelers to tell you they were selecting you?

Phil Kreidler (the team’s College Scouting Coordinator) was the first person I talked to. The phone went from him to Coach Tomlin, then to the offensive coordinator at the time, then to the offensive line coach at the time, and then to Mr. Rooney. When I got the call, I was alone in my apartment, and I can still remember the exact clothes that I was wearing. I’ll never forget anything about that weekend. I feel blessed beyond measure to have been drafted at all, but you never forget where you get drafted. If I did, Coach Tomlin would be there to remind me.

Photo courtesy of Jason Pohuski

Getting that phone call and hearing your name called must have been a dream come true, even if you had to wait for what seemed like an eternity. Knowing that seventh round picks aren’t guaranteed much in the NFL, when did you know or find out that you had earned a roster spot?

To be honest with you, I knew I had won a roster spot as soon as the Steelers drafted me. That’s the type of confidence and belief I had in my God-given ability. When I left Texas to drive to Pittsburgh for mini-camp and OTA’s, I brought everything with me like I knew I would be there for the long-haul. There was no coming home for me.

I got the official word that I had made the team my rookie year a day or two after our last preseason game. Coach (Sean) Kugler, who was the offensive line coach at the time, called me while I was home visiting family in Texas and gave me the news. It was another one of those Hallmark moments that I’ll never forget.

Not many people get to experience starting a game in the NFL, can you tell our readers what is was like when you took the field for your first career start?

The first time I took the field was in 2012 against the Denver Broncos and that is a day I will never forget because I didn’t dress (wasn’t active on the game day roster). It was the first time in my career that I didn’t dress for a game, and it was a feeling that I never wanted to feel again. Being a four-year starter in college transitioning to not starting in the NFL was a big adjustment. And then to not even suit up was like a double-Whammy. I’ll never forget that feeling.

My first experience as a starter was much better. It was late in the year and we were playing the Baltimore Ravens with Charlie Batch at quarterback. Nobody was giving us a chance and we went into Baltimore and won against one of our biggest rivals. There were a lot of nerves and anxiousness, but after a couple of plays I was just out there having fun and having a great time.

Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.

That’s awesome. Now let’s jump into some questions about something not too many people know about, and that’s your work outside of football. What do you have going on off the field?

I’m doing a lot of work with S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics). I’m really working to attach myself to it, and become an ambassador for initiatives centered around S.T.E.M. I just recently went to the National Robotics Center here in Pennsylvania that is a part of Carnegie Mellon University, and Everpower, which is a wind power business here in Pittsburgh, and both were fascinating to me.

I’m really trying to approach my involvement in S.T.E.M. with the idea that I can help get kids more interested and involved in the field, while also potentially opening doors on the business side of things. My passion, though, is on the youth side of it. I really want to help educate and encourage young kids, specifically young men and women of color, about the potential career avenues that are available in S.T.E.M. related fields.

I recently took a group of 20 kids from inner city youth centers around town to visit American Airlines to tour and get some hands on experience inside of a couple of their gutted airplanes. They also got to meet and talk to some of the skilled laborers who work on those planes everyday. It was really special for me to give those kids that opportunity. Several of them had never been on a plane, and it was a great example of S.T.E.M. in a real-world situation. There are so many great things out there that kids and parents don’t know about that are available for them to get involved in, which could lead to a highly-successful job or career. I really want to do as much as I can to use the platform I was blessed with to positively affect as many lives as possible.

What specifically drew you to STEM?

I never want to get involved in something that I don’t have a personal tie to. My dad is a mechanic and my wife is a nurse, which are both S.T.E.M. related fields. My dad has an 8th grade education and he is running one of the biggest businesses back in my hometown. He went and got the necessary certificates and now runs a profitable automotive shop. My wife does something science related, technology related, engineering related, and math related every day in the hospital, labs, or at her clinicals.

I really want to do as much as I can to use the platform I was blessed with to positively affect as many lives as possible.

Beachum, right, talks with Will Tooks at the start of a tour of the American Airlines Pittsburgh Maintenance Base in an effort to expose the students to STEM opportunities.

Beachum visits with a group of teenagers during a S.T.E.M. event he hosted in conjunction with American Airlines.

What programs do you have planned for the rest of the year?

I’m doing a S.T.E.M. conference back home in Mexia this April. I don’t have the money or resources right now to fly the youth of Mexia up to the National Robotics Center, so what I decided to do is bring as many programs and resources as possible down to them in Mexia for my three-day conference.

It’s great to hear about a professional athlete whole-heartedly getting behind a less common cause. Do you have an opinion as to why your efforts and the efforts of other players around the league for similar causes get so little coverage?

It’s not sexy. It’s not something the will grab headlines or produce conversations on Sports Center. It’s just how society is, people would rather hear about domestic abuse or somebody getting a DUI, that stuff gets headlines. It’s nothing against reports or media outlets, people just seem to be drawn to negativity.

Is there any way our readers can get behind or help support your cause?

I have a website that will be coming out soon that will really show people what we have going on and how they can support the cause and get involved, so stay tuned for that.

For right now, just help spread the word about S.T.E.M. Tell your kids, tell your nieces and nephews, tell everybody that you can. Do things like take your kids to the museum or aquarium and have them talk to somebody that works there. It’s all about raising awareness about the S.T.E.M. related possibilities that are out there.

Dave Orban, right, Director of Aircraft Overhaul for American Airlines, speaks with Pittsburgh Steeler Kelvin Beachum in the cockpit of a passenger plane in the American Airlines Pittsburgh Maintenance Base.

Rapid Fire…

What a fantastic way to give back. The last set of questions I wanted to ask you are just a few fun, rapid-fire questions that will help our readers get to know Kelvin Beachum a little better. Here we go…

Photo courtesy of Jason Pohuski

– Who has been the toughest player you’ve had to block during your career?

I have two. Robert Quinn from the St. Louis Rams and Terrell Suggs from the Baltimore Ravens.

– What has been your most memorable game (at any level)?

I would have to say it was the Hawaii Bowl. It had been 25 years since SMU won a bowl game and we made history. The second one would have to be the Monday night game we had earlier this year where Le’Veon (Bell) scored that one-yard touchdown to win the game against the San Diego Chargers. I’ll never forget that.

– If the Steelers don’t win Super Bowl 50, who will?

It would be nice to see the Carolina Panthers win it. They have a really nice defense.

– What was your ‘welcome to the NFL’ moment?

Phil Taylor of the Cleveland Browns welcomed me to the NFL. It was the last game of the 2012 season. He ratted me out with a dirty shot at the end of the game. It was nowhere near the play and knocked me out of the game. I have some history with Phil. He’s a Baylor guy, he plays for Cleveland. It’s safe to say we have a pretty heated rivalry. I could go on and on, but yeah, Phil Taylor welcomed me to the league.

– What did you study in college?

Economics and Sports Management during my undergrad, and my Master’s was in Organizational Dynamics.

– If you weren’t a professional athlete, what would you be doing?

Something in the S.T.E.M. field most likely. I’ve also thought about trying to be an athletic director, but at the end of the day, I’d just want to be doing something where I can help people and impact lives.