By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Amid the eye of the NFL Draft glitz machine sits Odell Beckham Jr. in a busy airport getting ready to leave for New York. As his new world swirls around him, the klieg lights being arranged and limo reservations made for Radio City Music Hall, Beckham Jr. seems unfazed by it all.
The LSU star and projected first-round draft pick doesn’t fill his idle time on his cell. He has more pressing matters that need addressing, like pouring over algebra problems with his 12-year-old sister, helping her figure out on a piece of paper the area of a rectangle and a triangle.
Beckham remains the same young man who still makes the rounds with everyone who’s touched his life each time he goes home to New Orleans. None of the newfound glam has seeped into the 6-foot, 200-pound deep threat who’s being projected to go anywhere from the mid-first round to possibly the Eagles’ initial choice at No. 22.
Many prognosticators say the Eagles are very interested in grabbing Beckham, like Sports Illustrated NFL guru Peter King. Beckham falls in that “second tier” of receivers with USC’s Marqise Lee and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, behind Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.
Lee and Cooks have positives in their favor. Beckham may have a little more. For one, he was a first-team all-Southeast Conference selection, the nation’s deepest talent-rich conference. They play defense in the SEC (five SEC teams were among the nation’s top 20 in total defense) —something numerous Pac-12 schools are anemic towards (only USC and Stanford were among the top 20).
Beckham has more versatility than Lee and Cooks. The Paul Hornung Award winner broke LSU’s single-season all-purpose yardage record with 2,315 yards in 2013. He has inordinately large hands, can line up at both the slot and outside, blocks downfield and can stretch a defense.
He also has the character trait that the NFL feels is so vital to team chemistry.
What keeps Beckham so refreshingly grounded are his parents, Odell Sr. and Heather Van Norman. His size may come from his dad, a former LSU running back and Texas high school star, but the speed definitely comes from mom.
Van Norman was a six-time NCAA track all-American at LSU when Odell Jr. was born on Nov. 5, 1992 during her senior year in college. She actually worked out with the Tigers up until she gave birth—then came back later that spring to run the third leg of LSU’s national champion 4×400 relay team.
Mom had an early inkling her son was something a little special.
“I’d like to take credit for the speed and give glory to God, I just know Odell was extremely swift, and it’s something you could tell at an early age,” said Van Norman, an accomplished track coach at Rice, Georgia Tech, Tulane, Tennessee and currently Nicholls State. “He’s always been like that. What is speed? Speed is really honestly the nervous system in your body. Odell has always been explosive neurologically.
“Odell’s been like a track baby, if you will. He’s been around track and field for so long that he picked up a lot of things that can make you explosive. He likes to do those types of drills. I sensed he was a little unusual, a little gifted when he was crawling. I could never blink—because he was gone.”
Then Van Norman relayed a story of when Odell was four. He used to play a game in the yard where he threw a football very high, creating time enough to position himself under it.
“I used to ask him what he was doing and he would say that he’s getting ready to play for Sundays,” Van Norman said. “And here we are today in New York.”
Beckham graduated from New Orleans’ Isidore Newman High School, the same high school Peyton and Eli Manning attended. Beckham started four years for coach Nelson Stewart, who’s been contacted by several NFL teams in Beckham’s character assessment.
On the field, Beckham’s galvanizing moment, in Stewart’s eyes, came during the summer of his senior year at the NFL Regional 7-on-7 camp. There was one play when the quarterback threw a pass that he shouldn’t have into double coverage toward the back of the end.
Suddenly from nowhere, a hand thrust up into the air to snatch the ball down.
“When I tell you the place went crazy is an understatement,” Stewart recalled. “Everyone jumped on Odell and we won the game with that catch. I never saw anything like it at the high school level. They still talk about it down here. Odell is such a special athlete and such a special competitor. He seemed like he can fly in the air to get the ball.
“When you watch Odell on the field, he can be flashy just the way he runs, the way looks and carries himself. But in person, he’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever come across. He’s about the team. He was front-page news when he committed to LSU, but his biggest regret about high school was that we didn’t win a few more games and get to the state championship. He’s a total team kid—that’s what he’s about. He’s the son of a coach, and Heather instilled that attitude in him.”
Stewart said the Patriots, 49ers, Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and the Eagles have expressed interest.
“You see what Chip Kelly does and what his receivers do, and that’s what Odell does,” Stewart said. “A team like Philadelphia could use someone like Odell in so many different ways. I get excited seeing that, the tempo the Eagles play, moving to the slot or outside, Odell could do all of those things.”