Former NFL Star Beebe finds higher calling
Don Beebe’s message hits home with quiet authority.
Listen closely -– his voice may only reach a loud whisper.
“I rarely raise my voice,” Beebe said, then smirked. “But the kids know when I’m upset.”
A former NFL wide receiver whose nine-year career was spent with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers, this devout Christian now volunteers his time coaching tiny Aurora (Ill.) Christian High School -– enrollment 376 -– because of his faith.
“There’s no money involved,” Beebe said. “It’s my calling. I felt God calling me to coach kids.”
When former Bills coach and current general manager Marv Levy asked Beebe to join Buffalo’s coaching staff in 2006, Beebe immediately turned him down to remain with Aurora Christian.
“Why do something just for money?” Beebe said. “My passion is here and with these kids.”
In four seasons as head coach, Beebe transformed a struggling program into a Class 3A state power by setting examples and building traditions.
He maintains heart outweighs talent.
“I’ll take 11 guys beating their chests any day.”
A man who built an NFL career based on his 4.2 speed in the 40, Beebe says speed and athleticism are overrated.
“(Despite my speed), if I couldn’t come off a jam or run a route, I’d have never played a down.”
He’s instilled the mentality in his players that Christians can indeed be tough by referring to another NFL great -– the late Reggie White, who was Beebe’s teammate in Green Bay and an ordained minister.
“You’re not playing for yourself,” Beebe said. “You’re playing for God, who gave you this talent. You should glorify Him.”
“[Beebe’s] heart is so big, it’s just amazing,” said senior linebacker/fullback Michael Friend. “Winning football games to him is a product of teaching us to be good young Christian men. His door is always open. He’ll always make time for us.”
In Beebe’s first season, the varsity program consisted of a mere 17 players. Now, 40 don the Eagles’ red and white uniforms.
Beebe’s leadership has Aurora Christian at 8-0 and headed to a top seed in the state playoffs. On Sept. 21, Beebe grounded his air-it-out offense in favor of the running game. After nearly 400 combined rushing yards from running backs Sean O’Boyle and John Smith, Aurora Christian earned a victory against Chicago Christian -– a team that had won 21 straight Private School League games and five straight league titles.
Yes, Beebe can coach, too.
“If you can create a positive atmosphere,” he said, “not one with drudgery, for the kids to succeed and enjoy themselves, good things will come for them.”
Beebe created the tradition of holding a team-only Senior Night, in which Aurora Christian camps around a bonfire near the team’s practice field while seniors share their experiences in the program. Beebe makes players lifelong members of the program — each senior buries a memento under the field.
“He doesn’t just teach us lessons on the football field -– he teaches us life lessons,” said senior wide receiver Tommy Velasquez. “(He teaches us) how to be a man, how to be a good person. He’s been a big influence in my life.”
document.write(insertImage(‘http://vmedia.rivals.com/uploads/1185/555162.jpg’, ‘555162.jpg’, 1, 249, 300, 1, ‘In Super Bowl XXVII, Beebe created one of the most memorable NFL moments ever by batting the ball away from the Cowboys\’ Leon Lett at the goal line.’, ”, 1192814597000, ‘Beebe Lett 300’, 1185, ‘Align=Right’));Beebe’s influence partially results from a single play in his NFL career. With his Bills trailing the Dallas Cowboys 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII, Beebe chased down Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett, who appeared on his way to a sure touchdown. As Lett began showboating for the crowd, Beebe knocked the ball from Lett’s right hand before he reached the end zone, preventing another Cowboys score.
It’s that sort of determination, no matter the score of a game or the situation in life, that Beebe hopes to instill in his players.
“All I did on that play was do my job and try 100 percent,” Beebe said. “That’s all I ask of these kids, that they try. If they give all of themselves on the field, in the classroom and in life, I’ll be proud of them and they should be proud of themselves.”
Junior quarterback Jordan Roberts is one of many players making Beebe proud. Roberts is on pace to break state records for career touchdown passes and passing yards. Notre Dame, Northwestern and UCLA, among other schools, have shown interest in Roberts, and a major college decision is on the horizon for him. Roberts said Beebe would factor into his decision when the time comes.
“When he talks about football, he’s a man to listen to because he’s been to the highest level,” Roberts said. “But beyond that, he touches us how to be a man of God and to make the right decisions in life. He’s going to pray for me and give me his advice, and he, along with my parents, will help me make that decision of where I should go.”
Roberts still has his senior season to play and more traditions to uphold. As car headlights brighten the dark practice field, he’ll be there in 2008 with hundreds of members of the community when Beebe blows his whistle one second after midnight on the fourth day of practice, when the IHSA allows full-contact drills. Needless to say, Beebe takes advantage of every second.
And nothing points to his leaving the school any time soon. If Marv Levy, the man Beebe respects the most, can’t lure him away from Aurora Christian, what can?
“If you can get a kid to believe in you, respect you, trust in what you’re saying and trust in God –- you’ve got ’em,” Beebe said. “You can help them be winners on and off the field.”
So far, so good.