Sports, as in life, ain’t always fair. Sometimes the bad guys win. Sometimes the good guys get shafted.
Take Indiana linebacker Leon Beckum. He’s a good guy, a former walk-on from Bloomington North High School who earned his way, through effort and will, to a scholarship and a starting position. He’s a co-captain and a leader and somebody the coaches were counting on to have a special senior season.
He still might, but not the way he would have liked.
A knee injury has sidelined him. Nobody knows how long, although the hope is just a couple of weeks. He got hurt in the season opening loss at Ball State after recording five tackles, including one for a loss.
He missed the Virginia game. Maybe he would have made a difference, especially in the Cavaliers crucial final drive that led to the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion, and ultimate IU loss.
Mike Ekeler was asked about Beckum. Ekeler is the straight-talking, hyper-energy linebacker coach/co-defensive coordinator. He is the Yin to fellow co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory’s Yang in the defensive scheme of things.
Or is that Yang to Yin? We’re a little unclear about Chinese philosophy these days.
Anyway, Ekeler likes what he sees from Beckum, even when Beckum can’t play.
“He’s at every meeting,” Ekeler says. “He’s coaching up everything in practice.
“When guys come to Memorial Stadium before the game, the first thing they do is walk in the team meeting room. They have a test. Each position coach asks the players about their certain responsibilities within that game. I asked Leon one question. I said, ‘Leon, your teammates picked you as one of the team captains. Now you’re dinged up. What would you give to get out on that field (against Virginia)?’ He said, ‘I’d give my soul.’
“That’s who he is. It means everything to him. He’s a special guy.”
Without Beckum the linebacker focus has shifted. Jeff Thomas remains the main man. Brandon McGhee and Chase Hoobler flank him, with Griffen Dahlstrom and Lee Rose as backups.
“We’ve got a lot of character in there,” Ekeler says. “They work hard. They appreciate the opportunity they have right now. They’re trying, like everybody else, to make the most of it.
“I like their work ethic. They’d done what we’ve asked them to do. They’re trying to get better.”
As far as who starts and who backs up, it remains a fluid situation after Thomas and Hoobler. McGhee, for instance, is now listed as a starter. Last week, it was Rose.
“From Day 1 we’ve told these guys, they write the depth chart,” Ekeler says. “I drew up the chart for the first practice. You can take this and do whatever you want with it. You can write it yourself. They know it. The guys who are playing the best will be out there.”
Plenty of work remains, which is what you’d expect from a 0-2 team that, with just a few more plays, could be 2-0. But head coach Kevin Wilson says he’s seeing improvement, which indicates better days are coming.
Yes, we know, that’s a mantra for a program that seems forever waiting for better days, but work with us here.
“There was greater effort,” Wilson says about the improvement between the Ball State and Virginia games. “That was pleasing. It still could be so much better. We’re just going to try to keep building. We need to keep building.
“We made some strides. No moral victories. Our goal is to win it. We blew it. We had an opportunity to get it closed out. We didn’t. The deal is to win games. It’s nice we improved, but that ain’t good enough, because we still lost.”