By Trey Mongrue
No LSU football player was more ecstatic to get last week off than Kendell Beckwith.
Thrust into the starting middle linebacker spot before LSU traveled to take on Florida in early October, the normally quiet sophomore suddenly had to become the loudest player on the field – a skill needed to relay the play call from the sideline to his teammates.
“I’ve been having to drink a lot of water and chew gum and stuff to help my throat because it was so dry,” Beckwith laughed. “I was about to lose my voice.”
But other than a sore throat, Beckwith has fit in seamlessly with the LSU defense.
In the Tigers’ monumental 10-7 win over then-third ranked Ole Miss, the former East Feliciana High School standout led LSU with 10 total tackles.
His biggest one came late in the fourth quarter. Forcing an Ole Miss third down with two yards to go and LSU holding onto its three-point lead, Beckwith was supposed to blitz off the edge, but had to quickly improvise when the Ole Miss offensive line sealed his gap.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rebels running back I’Tavius Mathers coming out of the backfield with the ball. Beckwith quickly changed his course and laid a hit that sent Mathers straight to the Tiger Stadium grass a yard short of the first down marker.
“I just saw the opportunity to hit him,” recalled Beckwith. “I didn’t even know he was that close getting a first down.”
But there wasn’t much time to celebrate or, in Beckwith’s case, get the next play in because the Rebels tried to rush a quarterback sneak for the first down.
“They did catch us off guard,” he explained. “I was trying to get the next play from the sideline when I saw Jalen Mills told me to hurry up and get down.”
Down Beckwith got, right on the line of scrimmage in fact, and when the ball snapped, he pushed the Ole Miss center on his back, allowing for a host of LSU defenders to stuff Wallace over the top.
While Ole Miss did have one more shot at the LSU defense before the final whistle, that series swung the momentum in the Tigers’ favor. And for Beckwith, it was one of his favorite moments of his budding collegiate football career.
“That’s the type of plays and games that you dream for,” said Beckwith who was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week following his stellar play against the Rebels. “With that atmosphere and a big game like that… man… that was amazing.”
It was a certain point of pride for LSU coach Les Miles, who made the tough call to push Beckwith ahead of veteran D.J. Welter.
“He is just becoming more and more comfortable at that linebacking spot,” Miles said of Beckwith.
In addition to Miles, sophomore safety Rickey Jefferson always knew that his roommate was capable of great things.
“I love it in the middle. You’re just in the middle of everything and you have so many opportunities to make plays.”
– LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith
– LSU linebacker Kendell Beckwith
“That guy is amazing on and off the field,” Jefferson said. “We’ve grown with each other, and all of the success that he is getting right now, he deserves it.”
It may not be a coincidence that LSU’s quality of play in the front-seven has increased dramatically since Beckwith was given more playing time.
Following LSU’s lopsided 41-7 loss at Auburn, the Tigers rushing defense ranked last in the SEC, allowing over four yards per carry. Starting with the game against Florida, LSU has allowed just 3.5 yards per carry and just one rushing touchdown in its last three games.
In that span, Beckwith has led the Tigers in tackles in two games.
“I’m getting very comfortable in making all the calls,” he said. “I’m just trying to fly around to the ball and make plays.”
It’s impressive on just how much ground Beckwith has made up in a relatively short time.
Just last year, with Welter holding down fort in the middle, a then-freshman Beckwith was deployed at both outside linebacker positions and even at defensive end towards the end of the season.
While he liked being on the field, he prefers being in the middle of the field where all the action. Now that Beckwith is there, he doesn’t plan on leaving.
“I don’t miss playing on the outside at all,” he grinned. “I love it in the middle. You’re just in the middle of everything and you have so many opportunities to make plays.”
Despite taking over the starting role and the almost all of the snaps at the position, Beckwith is still the one learning and Welter is still teaching. The two formed a bond when Beckwith came to Baton Rouge last season and that hasn’t changed.
“I still ask D.J. for help, even during the games,” Beckwith said. “You hear about guys that you’re competing with who don’t try to help you and just leave you out to dry, but D.J. is willing to help me at any time, and it has helped a lot.”
Welter isn’t the only one helping out. Jefferson picked up on Beckwith’s quiet nature when they moved into a dorm together as freshmen (They often yell “804” – their room number – when either one makes a big play). For the self-described loud Jefferson, he made sure that Beckwith had to be loud.
“I get on him everyday to tell him to start talking more,” said Jefferson. “He didn’t like me at first because I talked too much. He even thought he was going to have to fight me.”
Thankfully, for LSU’s sake, that fight never took place and instead Beckwith’s voice is starting to resonate more and more with his teammates and coaches.
“I had to work on it and I’ve gotten a lot better at it now,” he explained. “Playing that position, you have to be really loud.”
With Alabama and its balanced offense coming to Tiger Stadium this Saturday, a deafening crowd is sure to follow so Beckwith will have to be louder than ever.
He believes that he is ready for whatever is thrown at him at this point. He has found a home for himself at middle linebacker and with he inherently becomes the vocal leader on the LSU defense.
“All my hard work that I’ve put in has paid off,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be at this point. It’s the right time for me.”