I have something in common with UC sophomore Camaron Beard: Both of us spent our college years chowing down late at night.
In my case, the motivation was a combination of gluttony and procrastination. I would put off my studies and happily trek from Syracuse University's Watson Hall dormitory to the nearby Wimpy Wagon food truck where I would indulge my late-night craving for a "cheese jaw."
(The cheese jaw was basically two extremely greasy cheeseburgers sitting side-by-side on a toasted sub roll. I would give a year's salary for one right now).
In Camaron Beard's case, the late-night feasts are not
delaying his schoolwork and are much healthier than mine were as he tries to
become a dominant defense tackle at the college level.
"I was probably about 235 pounds when I committed to UC in high school, so I've definitely packed on a few pounds - I'm around 275-280 now," Beard told me. "Me and teammate Eric Lefeld would wake up in the middle of the night and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That was our secret. We had to eat regularly to keep our weight up. At times we even set an alarm. I've definitely gone up a couple of sizes in clothes."
The Bearcats are hoping that bigger clothes will help Beard fill gigantic shoes - he and Jordan Stepp are expected to replace tackles Derek Wolfe and John Hughes in UC's starting lineup.
"They are big shoes to fill, but if there's anyone capable of doing it, it's Camaron Beard," said head coach Butch Jones. "I like what I've seen so far."
"What separates John and Derek from Cam is their FBI - their football intelligence," said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "They kind of knew if it was run or pass before the play and Camaron is getting to that point. I'm going to tell you this - he's a treat to coach because he has a great attitude, never says 'boo,' and is a wonderful kid from a wonderful family."
Derek Wolfe will be especially difficult for Cincinnati to replace. Last year Wolfe was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East as he led the conference and ranked fifth nationally in tackles for loss (21.5) and tied for 16th in the nation in sacks (9.5).
"Watching Derek was definitely a great learning experience," said Beard. "He really taught me how to play and set the standard for how the position should be played. When you watch him on film, you see how physical he is. I just want my play to replicate that."
"Camaron is a big body and has a great frame," said Coach Stripling. "I think he's going to continue to grow and be a Wolfe-style player. He's been in the program for two years and right now, I'm really excited that he's here. We put kids in high pressure situations today and some guys get the 'big eyes' on their face, but he doesn't. He's maturing and I'm really excited about it."
At 6'5", Beard is just as tall as Wolfe and gives the Bearcats a commanding presence in the middle of the defensive line.
"I originally came here as a defensive end, but I feel like I am a tackle at heart now," said Beard. "I like being in the trenches and I wouldn't have it any other way."
"People don't appreciate the life of a tackle," said Coach Stripling. "You get two 300-pounders banging on you on every play. That can wear you out, and the coaches are still yelling 'run to the ball.' To me, defensive tackles have the tough world in football."
It is a tough job, but at least Beard gets to reward himself with those late night PB & J sandwiches.
"It's helped me play the position better," said Beard. "I couldn't play inside at 250 pounds."
"I'll tell you what, he's one of the most improved players this spring," said Coach Jones. "I love his mentality and his work ethic, and I'm very excited to see where he is come August."
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