Road to stardom

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, a first-round NFL Draft prospect: “You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity when your opportunity comes. Mine came with a little waiting game. I’m just glad I’m in the position I’m in now. Very thankful.”

What if Vic Beasley is not the third name to float from the lips of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the Auditorium Theatre stage in Chicago Thursday night?

What if, for some reason in or out of Beasley’s control, it’s not the fifth or sixth? Or eighth, or even the 13th?

Seated in the Green Room among other NFL draft prospects waiting to learn their football future, Beasley will clasp those oversized hands that taunt quarterbacks, and he will wait. Nothing he’s not already used to.

C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins, both top-10 draft picks, were on the fast track to stardom as freshmen at Clemson. Beasley, the high school running back turned Clemson tight end turned Clemson linebacker turned Clemson defensive end, used the Gaines Adams’ recipe for success — following the path of Clemson’s overachieving 2007 first-round draft pick. Season just right, let simmer for five years and serve.

“I’ve definitely thought about that. Everybody’s journey is different,” Beasley said this month at the annual South Carolina Hall of Fame banquet where he was honored as the 2014 Collegiate Player of the Year.

“You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity when your opportunity comes. Mine came with a little waiting game. I’m just glad I’m in the position I’m in now. Very thankful.”

The all-time leading sack man in Clemson history, Beasley isn’t just thankful.

Beasley is patient. He changed positions entering college, then twice more at Clemson, finally discovered he was best with his hand on the ground raiding the backfield. And though he would have owed no apologies for joining Watkins in the 2014 draft, Beasley opted for one more year with the Tigers.

After all those position changes, he’s likely going back to outside linebacker in the NFL.

What else? Beasley is classy, a gentle giant who’d rather strut Beethoven on a grand piano at Clemson’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts than bark boastful or obscene rants into the nearest television camera.

Beasley is polite. When told Boston College head coach Steve Addazio suggested Beasley must be a dancer based on how swiftly he moves his hips on the pass rush, Beasley insisted dancing’s not his thing but added shyly, “please thank him for the compliment.”

Beasley is selfless. Defensive ends coach Marion Hobby recalls a third-and-10 play in a close game when he suddenly noticed Beasley was standing on the sideline, instead of his usual perch in the three-point stance. When Hobby demanded an explanation, Beasley pointed to his younger teammate on the field and said, “Coach, he hasn’t gotten to play as much.”

“It’s not just about me. I think I set a standard for our guys, like Shaq Lawson and guys who are returning for the Clemson defense,” Beasley said. “That’s the No. 1 thing I’m proud of, is leading those behind me.”

At 6-3 and 246 pounds, with burgeoning power beginning to complement his natural quickness, Beasley, considered by some to be strictly a speed-rushing defensive end, bears a striking similarity to outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. He was the 15th overall pick in 2012 out of Washington who has started each of the past two Super Bowls for the Seattle Seahawks.

Irvin had the same knock on him three draft evaluations ago: he was a one-trick pony. As excellent as Beasley was in college at that one trick — 52.5 tackles for loss and 33 sacks speak volumes — it is but one.

“He’s got to play the run better, he’s got to maintain that weight at 246, not get back down to 225-230,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He had a great (Combine) and a ton of sacks and tackles for loss. Just want to see him play harder over a four-quarter period.

“He does take some plays off — sometimes the effort at times you see on tape isn’t what it needs to be. But you can say that about a lot of front seven players in general.”

On the unintentionally positive side for Beasley: two of his fellow pass-rushing prospects, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray, each found trouble due to drug issues this offseason. That elevates the stock of Beasley, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Oregon’s Arik Armstead and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree.

Compared to Beasley’s 33 career sacks, Dupree had 23.5, Fowler had 14.5 and the 6-8 Armstead just four.

“You know, you always had to account for Vic wherever he was,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Difficult to go one-on-one with that guy. Just a phenomenal football player, and seems like a great kid, just a great young man, as well.”

Feasibly, Beasley could go as high as No. 3 to Jacksonville or No. 5 to Washington, or perhaps drop to No. 13 (New Orleans.)

Something to consider: Beasley, an Adairsville, Ga., native, grew up a Atlanta fan, and had multiple private workouts with the Falcons brass — which includes new head coach Dan Quinn, Irvin’s former defensive coordinator in Seattle.

The stay-or-go choice 16 months ago made Beasley toss and turn.

Twelve days after the Tigers had defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl — Beasley had four tackles for a loss against the Buckeyes’ massive front — he announced in a somewhat surprising decision he wasn’t finished with school.

“Even last year, I believed he would have went and showcased his talents at the Combine, and he was going to move up the draft board automatically,” Hobby said. “But my question I had with Vic: are you done now? He was like, ‘no sir.’ He wanted to leave a legacy. I don’t know if it was just the sack record, but legacy was a word he used often.”

When Beasley receives Goodell’s summons Thursday night, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will be there to either offer his full kudos or kid him for breaking a streak.

“I told him I’ve been to the draft twice and I’m 2-for-2; two top-10 guys, don’t screw it up. Pressure’s on him,” Swinney said.

“With Spiller and Sammy, they were great right out of the gate. They got off the bus in Clemson and were great. Whereas Vic, it was a different journey for him. But at the end of the day, the destination is the same.”

Had Beasley settled for tight end, or failed to perfect that lethal move around the edge, he might still have an NFL roster spot waiting for him — but with far less contract guarantees as the $10 million and up due to top-15 picks. Not that Beasley figures as one to go out and blow it senselessly.

“The biggest difference going to the NFL is the financial side,” Beasley said. “I’ve never had this much money in my life, so I have to use it wisely, be smart with it, and then go out there and play football. And other good things will happen.”