Wiedmer: Vic Beasley should make all Falcons fans smile [photos]

Wiedmer: Vic Beasley should make all Falcons fans smile [photos]

June 28th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Sports editor Stephen Hargis, left, and sports writer David Paschall, right, interview Atlanta Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley on stage at the Times Free Press's Best of Preps banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Beasley was the guest speaker at the banquet which honors the area's best prep athletes.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Best of Preps award winners share speaker Beasley's passion

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Conventional wisdom might have surmised that Vic Beasley, fresh out of the Atlanta Falcons' mandatory minicamp earlier this month, would have headed for the Bahamas, Las Vegas or Cancun, Mexico — anywhere he could have reasonably expected to disappear into a $1,000-a-night cabana or suite that would protect him and his famous football friends from the fans and media.

After all, when you've just led the NFL in sacks — as the 24-year-old Beasley did last season with 15.5 such field flippers — you've suddenly got a celebrity image to project. Especially when one recent poll of his peers ranked him the 40th best player in the whole NFL.

So just where did the Adairsville, Ga., native and Clemson alumnus go to unwind?

Scrappy Moore Awards recipients

* Female Athlete of the Year: Jana Johns (Calhoun)

* Male Athlete of the Year: Cole Copeland (Bradley Central)

* Coach of the Year: Adam Caine (Sequatchie County)

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Best of Preps award winners share speaker Vic Beasley's passion [photos]

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"Nicaragua," Beasley said Tuesday night during his time as guest speaker for this newspaper's annual Best of Preps Banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

"I was on a mission trip with my church in Adairsville. It was a humbling experience. To see kids with so little, it teaches you to cherish what you have and not complain about what you don't."

It would be easy to soak briefly in the 6-foot-4 Beasley's chiseled physique, his electric smile, his quick wit and his four-year contract worth $14 million and believe he couldn't have anything to complain about. And he certainly projected that image to the packed house of close to 1,000 prep athletes, their families and their friends.

But this is also the same Vic Beasley whose brother died in 2014, followed by his father a little more than a year ago. He's also lost an uncle, a great aunt and his grandmother.

Yet where was he during his father's funeral? He was attending a charity function for childhood cancer research at Atlanta's Buckhead Theatre, because he'd previously given the charity his word that he'd be there and 300 people were showing up to meet him.

"I needed to be there," Beasley later told the Bleacher Report of his decision to attend the charity event, "for the kids who were battling something I've never battled."

Football is the ultimate sports battle and the NFL its ultimate stage. Yet it wasn't the sports stage Beasley saw himself acting on as a youngster.

"I thought I would play in the NBA," he said. "My favorite athlete was LeBron (James)."

He was so good in basketball — "I was a slasher," he said, "and a defender" — that Indiana actually offered him a chance to play both football and basketball. The College of Charleston, High Point and the Air Force also came calling for hoops.

But his decision to play football for Clemson was clearly the right one, as befitting not only that contract and those sacks, but also because he enjoyed his time as a Tiger so much that he's made headlines this week for his custom Clemson orange Camaro convertible with the purple and orange leather seats.

"I chose between Alabama and Clemson," he said. "I took a visit (to Clemson) and just loved the place. You have to follow your heart."

Having grown up 60 miles from the Georgia Dome, his heart was always with the Falcons. Not that his rookie season was much to write home about. He had four sacks and at least a smattering of criticism aimed his way. He also had one of those welcome-to-the-NFL moments that often humbles even the best collegiate stars.

"I'm blitzing and I've got a clear path to sack Matt Ryan, even though you're not allowed to sack your franchise quarterback," he recalled. "Out of nowhere this 5-foot-6 running back shoulder punches me. I do a 360 and I'm out cold."

Beasley said blowing a 28-3 lead in the overtime loss to New England in last winter's Super Bowl is something that still leaves him cold.

"Moments like that you'll never forget," he said. "We had that game on the tips of our fingers."

Given that Beasley told the Best of Preps crowd that if he couldn't be a pro athlete he would want to be a dentist because "I enjoy watching people smile," you could call the Super Bowl his emotional root canal.

And almost every Falcons fan probably feels similar pain. But Beasley also believes Atlanta will "be much better" this season.

"We didn't finish well," he said, "but we're going to keep working hard. We're going to control what we can control."

As his time at the banquet concluded Tuesday night, Beasley was asked whom he'd most love to sack that he hasn't yet.

Said the Pride of Adairsville, Clemson and the Big Peach, his mind still clearly on the opposing quarterback in the Super Bowl who so often barely escaped the tips of his fingers: "Tom Brady."

If Beasley can make that dream a reality in the next Super Bowl, he could enjoy watching every football fan in every corner of the country save New England break into a smile.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Best of Preps Award recipients

Mickey Haddock Award for Boys' Cross Country

* Jonathan Boyd (Chattanooga Patriots)

Phoebe Wright Award for Girls' Cross Country

* Taylor Luthringer (Signal Mountain)

Neely-Merrell Award for Volleyball

* Emma Flowers (Cleveland)

Jim Phifer Award for Boys' Golf

* A.J. Lintunen (Baylor)

Brooke Pancake Award for Girls' Golf

* Hannah Powell (St. Andrew's-Sewanee)

E.B. "Red" Etter Award for Football

* Brendon Harris (Baylor)

Robert High Award for Boys' Basketball

* Jr. Clay (McCallie)

Jackson-Lacy Award for Girls' Basketball

* Rhyne Howard (Bradley Central)

Farr-Worsham Award for Wrestling

* Chuckie Thurman (Heritage) and Knox Fuller (Bradley Central)

Guerry Award for Boys' Tennis

* Cooper Long (Baylor)

Bartlett Award for Girls' Tennis

* McCartney Kessler (Calhoun)

Steve George Award for Boys' Soccer

* Drew Viscomi (McCallie)

Best Of Preps Award for Girls' Soccer

* Kailey Burrell (Dade County)

Wirt Gammon Sr. Award for Baseball

* Cole Shelton (Dalton)

Buck Johnson Award for Softball

* Ashley Rogers (Meigs County)

John Phillips Award for Boys' Track & Field

* Hakim McMorris (McCallie)

Laquisha Jackson Award for Girls' Cross Country

* Lennex Walker (Arts & Sciences)

John Franklin Award for Academics

* Will McGregor (McCallie)

Sandy Sandlin Award for Unselfish Sportsman

* Gary Ownbey

Guy Francis Award for Going the Extra Mile

Jon Johnson (Howard)

Bobby Davis Award for Heart and Desire

* John Higgins (Sequatchie County)

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