Beathard embraces leadership role as Iowa's No. 1 QB
IOWA CITY, Ia. – C.J. Beathard's new look is popular with his coaches and a majority of fans.
"There's a fraction of people who like the long hair, and were sad I cut it," Beathard said.
Iowa's newly minted starting quarterback cut his locks this summer for a noble cause, the fight against cancer. He doesn't know if he'll grow it back.
"I'm kind of liking it short right now," Beathard said.
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So the flowing mane is gone, and it's not the only change in C.J.'s life. This is now his team. The spotlight has replaced the shadow.
"It's just different," said Beathard, a junior. "I have a bigger leadership role on this team. What I've taken upon myself to do is lead the offense, and organize things the coaches don't organize, and stay in the film room more than ever."
Beathard organizes workouts with his wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. They play pitch and catch, mimicking routes from the playbook. Beathard meets with offensive coordinator Greg Davis often. There's also the workouts with strength coach Chris Doyle. All done with one goal in mind.
"I want to be the best I can possibly be," Beathard said.
Iowa football rests on a precarious ledge heading into the 2015 season. Coach Kirk Ferentz is under the microscope. Season ticket sales are down. Unmet expectations in 2014, and a 7-6 record, have led to lukewarm enthusiasm.
"I try not to listen to all that," Beathard said. "We know coach, and our players. We know what's right and what we should be doing."
Beathard also knows it's time to take a step forward, with him behind center.
"We're so hungry this year," Beathard said. "A 7-5 record is not going to cut it. We know we're so much better than we showed on the field last year."
Beathard's arm and mobility – yes, the coaches are preaching the value of the slide with an oncoming linebacker drawing a bead on him – have the potential to give the offense a lift. He knows the pressure to perform rests on his shoulders now.
"I don't really feel pressure," Beathard said. "We like the pressure. We know what we can do, and we're going to do it. That's the plan."
Footballs fall from Beathard's family tree. His grandfather, Bobby Beathard, owns multiple Super Bowl rings from his time as an NFL general manager. His dad, Casey, was a prep quarterback and played receiver in college. His uncle, Kurt, was a college quarterback. He's now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Illinois State, the team the Hawkeyes meet when C.J. makes his second career start in the Sept. 5 season opener.
"Me and Uncle Kurt, we have a great relationship," C.J. said. "We're both really competitive people. We've got a family reunion July 4th, and I'll be with him there. We jab each other here and there. But it's all in good fun."
Another uncle, Jeff, is an NFL scout. Jeff played wide receiver at Southern Oregon and became "Mr. Irrelevant" when the Los Angeles Rams took him with the last pick of the 1988 NFL Draft. Pete Beathard, Bobby's brother, was a star quarterback at USC and was selected by Kansas City with the fourth pick of the 1964 AFL Draft.
"It feels like it's in my blood, the quarterback position," Beathard said.
C.J.'s hair earned him the nickname "Sunshine" after he came to Iowa, named after a character in "Remember the Titans."
One haircut later, a new nickname hasn't emerged yet. But there will be plenty to choose from is he brings a much-needed ray of sunshine to the Iowa football program.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.