Many young Baton Rouge football players grow up fantasizing about playing under the bright lights of Tiger Stadium or in the National Football League, but few athletes actually live out that dream. Even fewer athletes are able to sustain long, successful careers at a professional level.
Former LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith has endured the peaks and valleys of high-caliber athletics, and now wants to educate the next generation of Baton Rouge athletes through his new non-profit endeavor, the Darry Beckwith Foundation.
“All I wanted to do (growing up) was play sports, I didn’t want to do anything else,” Beckwith said. “When it didn’t go the way I thought it should go, I had some dark times. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.”
A Baton Rouge native, Beckwith played for the Tigers from 2005-2008 during the first four years of the Les Miles era.
As the starting middle linebacker, Beckwith was an integral part of LSU’s 2007 BCS National Championship season as a junior and garnered All-SEC honors his final two seasons in Baton Rouge.
Following his impressive collegiate career, Beckwith went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, but was signed by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent.
Beckwith’s professional career never materialized the way he’d envisioned. He spent two seasons with the Chargers, then signed with the Indianapolis Colts following the 2011 NFL lockout, only to be cut shortly after joining the team.
With his NFL hopes dashed, Beckwith finally reached his “low point.”
“I was so upset,” Beckwith said. “It’s an embarrassment too. You feel like you let your family down, let yourself down. You try to bottle everything up around people and act like you’re in a good mood, but when you’re in your room by yourself at night a lot of stuff goes through your mind. You really do not know your future. That’s really a scary thought.”
Beckwith’s typically cheerful demeanor changed, and his family took notice.
“I had a terrible attitude,” Beckwith said. “I’m not that type of person at all. But that’s what it did to me, it turned me into somebody that I really wasn’t. That’s what I don’t want to happen to the younger generation.”
The Parkview Baptist graduate said his faith in God and the support of his family helped bring him out from his personal darkness following the end of his NFL career.
“If I didn’t have Him, I would definitely not be where am I today,” Beckwith said.
Beckwith completed his LSU degree in the summer of 2012, began working for State Farm Insurance in the fall of that year and had a brief stint with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 2013, before finally hanging up his cleats for good.
During this time, Beckwith was contacted by a former LSU teammate, who despite completing his LSU degree and spending time in the NFL, was struggling financially, had few job prospects and had hit “rock bottom.” Seeing his teammate struggle really “hit home” for Beckwith, and got the wheels turning inside his head about how he could make a difference.
Then in December of 2015, Beckwith conceived the idea for a program aimed at mentoring young Baton Rouge area athletes and preparing them for life after athletics. The Darry Beckwith Foundation was born.
“I saw the pressure that was on (high school athletes) to succeed only in the athletic field, and the lack of accountability that local high school athletes had,” Beckwith said.
The Darry Beckwith Foundation is built on three pillars: tutoring, internships and athletic training.
Participants receive tutoring from a former collegiate professor, and the foundation teams up with local businesses to help place students into internships based on their interests.
The student-athletes train at Traction Sports Performance in Baton Rouge, one of the premier training facilities in the region, giving them the opportunity to interact with the professional and collegiate clientele that utilize the facility year round.
“It gives the (high school) athletes the opportunity to see how everything works,” Beckwith said.
The foundation targets high school athletes, primarily football players for now, during their sophomore through senior years.
Beckwith’s first participant is his cousin PJ Cannon, a two-sport standout at Zachary High School.
As the foundation grows, Beckwith plans to connect with area high school coaches to recommend future student-athletes for the program.
The foundation is funded by donations and is free to all participants, but potential candidates for the program are vetted through an interview process conducted by Beckwith.
“I’m looking for a kid that’s driven, that’s motivated,” Beckwith said. “They don’t have to be perfect, but must know what they want to do, and must be willing to go for it.”
Student-athletes must have a 2.0 grade point average to be eligible to participate in the Darry Beckwith Foundation, and must show improvement in the class room while participating in the program.
Beckwith also cites high character and integrity as qualifiers for potential applicants. Beckwith plans to double the size of the next class of DBF enrollees and hopes to see it grow exponentially through the years.
“If we can get up to 100-150 kids, that would be awesome,” Beckwith said. “If we have the money to do it, I definitely don’t want to put a cap on the number of kids we can help.”
Follow Andrew Alexander on Twitter @TheOtherAA.