Purdue’s leading returning tackler thought his time at Purdue was over after he was dismissed from the University in December following a DUI arrest.
It was his third brush with Tippecanoe County law enforcement between April and December of last year. He planned to return home to New Jersey to finish up getting his degree.
But senior Dwayne Beckford will start at middle linebacker on Saturday for a third straight season after his reinstatement to the team in May.
“I really didn’t think I would be back on the team,” Beckford said. “To have one more chance after I made mistakes really meant a lot to me. That was a blessing.”
The path back to Purdue wasn’t an easy one for Beckford.
Without a scholarship for the spring semester, Beckford was forced to pay for all of his own expenses. He got a job to pay for an apartment and $2,000 in tuition for five online courses from Vincennes University.
“It was tough not being with my teammates, not being able to take classes at Purdue, just being away from the whole thing,” Beckford said.
Beckford, who finished sixteenth in the Big Ten in tackles last season despite starting only eight games, said being away from the game helped him realize how much football meant to him.
“Every practice could be your last practice,” Beckford said. “Every game could be your last game. Every day could be your last day.”
Beckford was a 16 year old sophomore at Irvington High School in northeastern New Jersey when Purdue head coach Danny Hope first met him as one of former coach Joe Tiller’s last recruits.
Hope said he’s very proud of how far Beckford has come since that day in New Jersey five years ago, particularly the fact that he is in line to graduate in December.
“Dwayne’s had to work really hard to adjust to the academic challenges at Purdue,” Hope said “He’s always been a good teammate. He’s always come to practice with his hard hat on and worked hard. I think that he has certainly learned from his mistakes and matured a ton, particularly in the last several weeks ... I think he’s on track. He’s a very good football player.”
Beckford said his relationship with Hope has really grown over the last year and a half, and it means a lot that he has stuck by him through all of his legal troubles.
“I can really talk to (Hope) about anything,” Beckford said. “Life lessons, football ... he always lets me know what I need to do to keep me on track. I think it’s really important.”
Since his return to the team, Hope said Beckford has quickly picked up on what he missed from the spring in first year defensive coordinator’s Tim Tibesar system.
“I’m not surprised,” Hope said. “Dwayne has a very good football IQ. We’re very consistent with what we’re teaching. We’ve said all along that the new package presents a ton of options for the play-caller and a lot of carry-over for the players. It’s simple assignment-wise, and that’s evident on the practice field.”
Beckford, who called Tibesar a “different” type of coach, thinks he will excel as an inside linebacker in Tibesar’s system.
“I really like just watching football with him,” Beckford said. “I could just sit in a room and watch football with him all day. He can just teach non-stop.”
Beckford’s time off the field will be as important to him as his time on it this autumn. One more incident would almost certainly lead to his dismissal from the team.
“I’ve got to keep to the straight and narrow,” Beckford said. “A lot of times, people know what the right choice is, but just don’t do it. When I know what the right thing to do is, I’ve got to make the right choice.”