Commentary

Secret of DGB's success

Dorial Green-Beckham and his family showed just how to handle the recruiting process

Originally Published: February 7, 2012
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Meet Brenda Stone, financial secretary at Hillcrest High School. She sits through the double doors of the main office, a few steps left and around a corner to the right.

Kids come to her in search of bus passes, emotional support and everything in between. For Dorial Green-Beckham, Stone's office provided sanity these past few months -- a sanctuary to escape the madness of a football-recruiting frenzy unequaled nationally this year. Maybe ever.

"He comes in when, I figure, everyone is bugging him," Stone said. "Sometimes, he just sits here. Not even a word is spoken. He just needs a place to get away."

By now, you've heard of Green-Beckham, the most prolific receiver in the history of high school football. He signed with Missouri last week after a lengthy courtship by the Tigers and nearly every power player in the game.

His announcement in the Hillcrest gymnasium, detached from the main building, drew some 50 media members and more than 1,500 students, school staffers and, yes, college football fans. ESPNU televised it live.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Denny Medley/US PresswireScenes like this when everyone hangs on Dorial Green-Beckham's every word is exactly why the family kept things so quiet during the recruiting process.
Say what you want about the dizzying and exploitative culture of recruiting. But it's here to stay and growing more intense each year.

Four years ago, the decision of Pennsylvania quarterback Terrelle Pryor drew unprecedented attention. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney set a new standard last year.

Unintentionally, Green-Beckham upped the ante with his choice to stay largely secretive about recruiting and take his decision to signing day. Other top prospects waited, too, but none with the perfect-storm mix of schools in proximity to his hometown and intriguing backstory of Green-Beckham.

The most remarkable aspect? The process never swallowed him.

Dorial and his adoptive parents, Hillcrest football coach John Beckham and wife, Tracy, controlled the chaos. For many notable prospects, it's too much to handle; recruiting takes over. They commit and decommit and melt under the pressure of college coaches and the media.

"You get to the point where you can't sweat the little stuff," Tracy Beckham said. "It's just not important.

"John has watched other recruitments and seen a lot of unhappy kids, how they don't have any fun for the last two years of high school, because they're consumed by this process."

So let this latest tale serve caution -- or even as a guide -- for the next mega-prospect under the spotlight. Maybe it's Class of 2013 star Robert Nkemdiche, the man-child defensive end out of Georgia, or a high-end talent set to explode during the next few months.

John and Tracy entered this process determined to let Green-Beckham live a life as normal as possible for a high school senior.

After all, he'd been through enough. Dorial came to the Beckhams from a broken St. Louis home at age 13. The family adopted him and his brother Darnell in December 2009. Just more than a year later, Darnell, at age 15, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, for which he maintains a positive prognosis but must receive more than another year of treatment.

At the news conference that followed Green-Beckham's televised announcement, a reporter quizzed him about the efforts to keep his recruiting private: "Why? You made it hard on us."

John Beckham, sitting behind his 6-foot-6, 225-pound son, interrupted before Dorial could answer.

"Just look around," the coach said, his voice rising.

The scene was madness, with more than 10 TV trucks and vans parked outside and two dozen tripods perched on the gym floor as Green-Beckham peered over a podium in his gray suit and white tie.

Gary Pinkel, his coach next year at Missouri, rarely faces such a throng. At 18, how could Green-Beckham be ready?

"Some days, I thought it was hard," Green-Beckham said three hours later, relaxed on a couch deep within the school, his jacket, shirt and tie replaced by a Mizzou hoodie. "But I tried to take time to enjoy the process."

It worked, primarily because of the answer John Beckham did not offer to that reporter's question of Green-Beckham on Wednesday: It was the only way.

Controlled chaos

Outside of alerting a coach at the school, John Beckham never told anyone about Green-Beckham's plans to visit a college campus.

Adoption Day
Tracy BeckhamThe Beckham family in 2009 after adopting Dorial and Darnell (from left): Kingsley Ehie, Tracy, Malachi, Dorial, Darnell, Eliza, Sarah and John.
Often, the family traveled en masse -- John, Tracy and several of the six children, including Dorial, who live under the same roof. And always, as the Beckhams came to joke among the family last summer and fall, within an hour of confirming the visit, word would leak.

"Unofficial or official [visit], it didn't matter what school it was, they found out," Beckham said. "We never knew where it came from."

His phone would ring and buzz with calls and texts seeking confirmation or some morsel of insight. Beckham usually didn't respond.

"Everybody wanted an interview," he said. "It would have got completely crazy."

You can argue that Green-Beckham, the No. 3 prospect in the 2012 class, has yet to distinguish himself from other elite players. There's no denying, though, that he faced scrutiny from the media and fans unlike the rest.

Much of it had to do with the schools in pursuit: Arkansas and Southeastern Conference-bound Mizzou, which are nearly equidistant from Springfield, as well as national champion Alabama and Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma.

Hillcrest principal Jay Rush regularly heard the questions. Where's he going? Who's the favorite? Rush shrugged. He didn't know.

"They'd take two steps back and say, 'Really?'" said Rush, an Arkansas graduate with Razorbacks memorabilia displayed his office. "But what they're really saying was, 'Liar.'

"It took on a life of its own, but John and Tracy have kept him grounded."

Coaches, too, applied pressure. Bizarre soon became the norm for the Beckhams.

When former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel first called John Beckham about Green-Beckham, Beckham's son, Malachi, answered the call while playing a game on John's phone.

"Dad, there's some guy named Jim who wants to talk to you," he said.

Beckham took the call.

"I said, 'Who's this?'" John Beckham said. "He said, 'Hello, this is Jim Tressel.'"

Tressel began to call about once a week.

"And then one time, I was out to dinner with my wife and my phone rang," Beckham said. "She said, 'Aren't you going to answer it?' I said, 'No, it's just Jim Tressel.'"

Tressel was always nice, said Beckham, who laughs at the recollection. He understands how crazy it sounds -- and that's exactly it was.

Garrick McGee, the former offensive coordinator at Arkansas who left the school in December, formed a strong relationship with Green-Beckham and his family. McGee's departure fractured a bond with the Razorbacks and gave Missouri an edge.

Dorial Green-Beckham
AP Photo/Mark SchiefelbeinWhile many think of Dorial Green-Beckham as a superstar, he's just another guy to his teammates and they love that about him.
Pinkel gladly took it. Last month, Mizzou landed a helicopter, with Pinkel aboard, on the baseball field at Hillcrest. Green-Beckham embraced the coach on the ground, and Hillcrest's HTV staff caught it all on video, earning broadcast adviser Dave Davis an inquisition from Mizzou's NCAA compliance department.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, meanwhile, canceled his lone visit to Springfield because of a brief encounter with Green-Beckham while in San Antonio last month for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

All such maneuvering mattered little in the end. It came down to relationships built over years.

On Jan. 30, the day after Dorial returned from his official visit to Missouri and settled on the Tigers, he spoke out on Twitter about recruiting, a rarity. "It's my time to make my own decision," he wrote.

The next day, shortly after noon as Beckham granted an interview for this article, Texas coach Mack Brown called. In addition to Missouri and Arkansas, admittedly Green-Beckham's favorites at the end because of their distance from home, he made an official visit to Austin, Texas.

The Beckhams grew close to Brown and alerted him last week that their son would not sign with the Longhorns. Brown did nearly all the talking in the two-minute conversation. He was gracious and wished Dorial well, John Beckham said. It was a difficult moment in a grueling process.

Silence was golden

If Beckham could repeat the process, what would he do differently?

"I would be a lot more quiet," he said.

Beckham said he found the less information he revealed, the stronger the thirst for it grew. And regardless of his intentions, he had no control of the newspaper headlines or Internet reports, so Beckham said, he'd rather not try to influence the media.

"One thing I've learned in this process," he said, "is that if there's no information, some people will make up information."

Media reported that Green-Beckham favored one school or that he had given a silent pledge.

"These were all things that never happened," Beckham said.

John told Dorial to forget it. Easier said than done.

"A lot of people were guessing," Green-Beckham said. "It didn't come out of our mouths."

When Green-Beckham visited Arkansas without his parents, Tracy awoke John at 2 a.m., alarmed by word on the Internet depicting Dorial in a bad situation that involved alcohol. John investigated. It wasn't true, he said. A similar story came out of his trip to Missouri.

It's a lesson for the years to come. As a high-profile athlete, he'll remain a target.

That side of Green-Beckham's journey most irritates the Hillcrest community.

"People want to believe there's something out there that we're trying to hide," said Rush, the principal. "That there's some dark secret that we're protecting. That's just not the case."

[+] EnlargeBrenda Stone
Courtesy Dave DavisBrenda Stone provided shelter from the recruiting storm Dorial Green-Beckham faced just about every day.
Hillcrest athletic director Darrell Johnson describes Green-Beckham as a "model kid."

"But no matter how much you put out that information," Johnson said, "people are not going to believe that."

Classmate Brad Thomas believes it. The kids at Hillcrest know the personal side of Green-Beckham, and it's impossible to separate that side from the football, basketball and track star.

"If you see LeBron James on TV, you're like, 'It'd be cool if we went to school with him,'" Thomas said. "And then we see Dorial, and it's almost kind of like we do."

Stone's office serves as a safe zone for Green-Beckham and many others alike. Her children graduated from Hillcrest, so she identifies with most who walk through those doors. They're all looking for something.

For Green-Beckham, usually, it was peace. He found it occasionally, she said, though certainly not from the recruiting process.

"It is mind-boggling to me that an 18-year-old kid can have so many people hanging on his every word," Stone said. "I don't know how he does it. And I have the utmost respect for him, because the background that he's come from, we see a lot of kids who use that as an excuse not to succeed."

She saw Green-Beckham at his happiest in recent weeks, she said, when he received the successful results of his ACT exam.

Behind her desk, a shelf sits full of newspapers, magazines and other memorabilia for Green-Beckham to sign. Teachers drop items in Stone's office, knowing he'll visit and oblige. Last week, he took care of a heavy load.

She's begun to set aside a few pieces for display in a trophy case off the Hillcrest lobby after he graduates in May.

Perhaps they'll find room for an image from signing day. The scene in the gym resonated, with students and fans holding banners and cheering, the media anxious and the Beckhams on display -- calm at the center of the storm and always in control.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman

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