A virtual unknown a year ago, Countryside's quarterback has pushed his way into the elite of the nation's college prospects.
By BOB PUTNAM
Published September 3, 2004
Harrison Beck found out just how passionate Nebraska fans are about football when he arrived in Lincoln in June for a quarterback camp.
Checking into his hotel, Beck said, he was greeted by two clerks.
"Are you here for the camp?"
"Yes," Beck said.
"Where are you from?"
"Florida," Beck replied.
"Oh my god! You're Harrison Beck! You're that guy everybody is talking about!"
The Countryside quarterback created a buzz two weeks earlier when he made an oral commitment to become a Cornhusker. The news made the front page of three local papers. ESPN Radio called Beck on his cell phone for an interview.
And this was before he got to town.
The Big Red machine kept rolling while he was there. Beck performed mundane tasks, such as the 40-yard dash, in front of a scarlet sea of autograph-seeking fans and a throng of television crews.
Amid all the hoopla, Beck stared dumbstruck and thought
My God, how did I get here?
* * *
As insane as it would have seemed a year earlier, when he became a full-time starter for the first time, Beck has become one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound righty threw for a school-record 2,271 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Now it seems that everybody - recruitaholics, college coaches, students - wants a piece of him.
Nearly a year after propelling himself to stardom by leading his team to a school-record 10 wins and a berth in the region final against Class 4A state champion Armwood, Beck is still living it up.
Letters from top 20 schools continue to arrive. Nebraska wants him to do a daily diary of his senior season. Interview requests keep coming.
"It's crazy all the attention," Beck said. "I never thought this would be possible a few years ago. I thought I'd have a few schools look at me, and I'd have to pick between two or three.
"But 50 or 60 schools? I never would have imagined that."
The blitz of fame has done nothing to rattle Beck, who stirred his team with his brash enthusiasm and preternatural poise.
It's the latter quality that has become his defining characteristic, one that has helped him deliver in the clutch.
A cocksure quarterback who wants the ball in his hands when everything is in the balance, Beck took over in a game against Dixie Hollins last season that impressed the nation's top college coaches.
Down 22-14, the Cougars had the ball on their own 2-yard line with less than two minutes remaining and no timeouts.
Like his idol Brett Favre, who won three MVP titles, Beck thrived a scary combination of quick reads, pinpoint accuracy and grace under fire. Beck led Countryside on a 13-play, 98-yard drive that made the score 22-20.
The Rebels, though, preserved the win as Beck's pass sailed out of the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt.
Beck, who finished 15-of-30 for 255 yards, completed five passes and ran twice on the final drive to put the Cougars in position to force overtime.
"He made some throws in that drive that were unbelievable," Countryside coach John Davis said. "I remember there was a 6-yard out pass to Dan Petillo on fourth down where Beck just fired a rocket."
On the phone with Davis, Arizona (and former USF) offensive coordinator Mike Canales watched that throw and turned off the VCR.
"(Canales) said he would offer him now," Davis said. "That throw convinced him that Harrison can play at the next level."
* * *
Beck is more than just a strong-armed quarterback. He exudes strap-yourself-onto-my-back leadership.
That same verve helped Beck overcome tragedy at an early age.
In the summer of 1993, Beck went on a weekend camping trip with his mother, Evelyn Bothwell, and his older brother, Brent. They returned home to find father Harry Beck, 37, dead on the sofa from heart failure.
"That was a terrible time for the whole family," Bothwell said. "It was hard on all of us. Brent was in high school at the time and Harrison was 7. But the kids helped me out."
Beck found his outlet through sports. At first he tossed a baseball, but it was his ability to throw a football that got everybody's attention.
His mother remembers she was cooking one day when Brent, who was home from Kentucky Wesleyan, told her he believed his brother had a stronger arm than the quarterback of his college team.
"That's when I really started watching Harrison," Bothwell said.
* * *
Beck played his freshman year at South Iredell High in North Carolina before moving back to Florida after a semester. His brother went to Seminole, so Beck did as well.
But his mother decided the Warhawks' Wing-T wasn't the best fit, especially with the pass-happy Countryside right up the road.
"Seminole is a great school" Bothwell said. "But they just didn't throw the ball. We wanted to go somewhere where they let the quarterback throw."
In his first practice at Countryside, just minutes after finishing stretching drills, he broke his thumb holding for a kick. He returned to throw for 851 yards as a sophomore, showing glimpses of a promising future.
"I could tell right away (Beck) had an outstanding arm, and he wanted to learn," Davis said. "Those are the things you want to see. There were some throws he would make, where you would say, "Holy Mackerel!' and there were other times where you would say, "What are you doing?'
"I don't care who it is, it's going to take some time to learn a new system. But Harrison had a great deal of confidence. He's got that Brett Favre mentality"
* * *
Beck is so devoted to being the best that he studied tapes religiously. He even decided to spend a day at the Nike Quarterback Camp in Gainesville with his mother to watch.
While there, Bothwell asked if her son could throw a football with one of the camp organizers. Beck's arm impressed so much, he was asked to take part in the invitation-only camp.
Rifling passes that showed off his strength, Beck was mentioned as one of the top throwers there and received a personal invitation from quarterback guru Bob Johnson to another camp in California.
The lessons Beck learned where put to use last season with his breakout performance. Soon after, college coaches started lining up to sign him.
Beck had offers from 15 schools, including Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina State.
In the spring, the solicitations became more personal. Gators coach Ron Zook stopped by campus to watch him. So did Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. Beck bumped into Louisiana State coach Nick Saban in the hallway.
Because he wanted to play for a school where he could start right away, Beck chose the Cornhuskers. He informed Callahan of his decision via phone.
The news made the former Oakland Raiders coach pull off the side of the road.
Callahan's uncontrollable joy stemmed from getting the quarterback he targeted all along.
Since taking over for the ousted Frank Solich on Jan. 9, Callahan has brought sweeping changes to Nebraska, the biggest coming on offense. Callahan is replacing the option - Nebraska's bread-and-butter attack since 1977 - with the West Coast system he ran in the NFL.
To make that system work, Callahan needed a marquee quarterback. He worked tirelessly over the winter to assemble players who were familiar with his brand of football. Beck fit that model perfectly.
"Callahan told me Beck's arm is better than three or four quarterbacks he worked with in the NFL," Davis said.
Beck showed off that arm at Nebraska's quarterback camp. Afterward, he was surrounded by reporters.
"It was crazy how much media was there," Beck said. "They were asking all kinds of questions."
For now, the issues Beck are more concerned with involve those in his own locker room. The Cougars succeeded last season because they were the consummate team, and Beck understands that the more attention he gets, the greater threat to that dynamic.
"I'm not going to let any of this get to my head," Beck said. "I'm the same guy. I still hang with the same friends, still do the same things. I know the attention won't last for long.