College Sports

East Side’s Beckner was shy when he arrived at Mizzou. He’ll leave with a roar

Terry Beckner Jr. talks Mizzou’s turnaround

East St. Louis graduate Terry Beckner Jr. talks about his junior season with Missouri Tigers.
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East St. Louis graduate Terry Beckner Jr. talks about his junior season with Missouri Tigers.

After Terry Beckner Jr. sacks a quarterback, he gallops a few steps, winds up and punches the air. His mouth contorts into an oval, and he lets out a shout — an explosion of unencumbered emotion.

He doesn’t look like a kid once too reserved to leave his freshman dorm room.

But the summer of 2015, Missouri volleyball player Alyssa Munlyn noticed Beckner’s absence as she grew close with fellow Tigers freshmen athletes. He never relaxed with her group of friends. She didn’t know anything about him.

One day, Munlyn pulled aside Beckner’s roommate, former MU football player Nate Howard. She told him to make Beckner join their group in the dorm lounge. With the NBA Finals playing on the TV, Beckner came out of his room and sat next to Munlyn.

“He was really shy at first and was like, ‘I just don’t like the attention,’” said Munlyn, who started dating Beckner in March 2016.

ESPN had ranked Beckner, an East St. Louis native, the No. 2 recruit in the nation. He told Munlyn he didn’t want people to treat him differently. The recruiting process had overwhelmed him, and he felt relieved when he put pen to paper and signed with Missouri.

Beckner still doesn’t care much for attention, but he grew more comfortable with his status at Missouri. The first two years of his college journey saw him go from top recruit to a man whose injuries could’ve derailed his career. But, during his junior and senior seasons, he became one of the Southeastern Conference’s top defensive linemen.

“He stayed focused,” said Joseph Clayborne, Beckner’s agent at Agility Sports. “He lived up to the hype.”

Beckner bought in, and now he could become the seventh Missouri defensive lineman since 2011 to hear his name called in the NFL Draft.

JERMAYA WHITE-BECKNER SCANNED THE FIELD FOR HER SON in a 2015 game against BYU. Where did Little T go? Then her husband pointed at the 20-yard line: Terry was on the turf, unable to pull himself up.

Minutes later, White-Beckner’s phone rang. A Tigers staff member was coming to escort the Beckners to the locker room. The injury looked serious.

Beckner was distraught by the time his family arrived. “I’m doing everything right,” his mother remembers him repeating. Yet his freshman season ended with a torn right ACL and MCL. Beckner’s eyes welled. His parents and sister cried, too.

“Just to see him in that pain was just devastating for me,” White-Beckner said.

Beckner, who had never been seriously injured, had surgery that December, then returned home to for winter break. Head athletic trainer Rex Sharp called White-Beckner around New Year’s to check in and learned the freshman wasn’t doing his rehabilitation work. Sharp said he should return to Columbia.

While Beckner was away and inactive, scar tissue built up in his knee, limiting his range of motion. Sharp had him work to break the tissue when he got back to Columbia in early January — a process as painful as it sounds.

During their first day back together, the trainer posed a challenge: one rotation on a workout bike. This is what Beckner was reduced to. It took him multiple days to pedal 360 degrees.

“It’s almost demeaning when you think about it,” Sharp said. “But it’s where you’ve got to start to get this thing going.”

Every day for the rest of break, Beckner and Sharp spent up to six hours together in the training room. Most other athletes were out of town, so Sharp let the lineman pick the music. As Beckner worked to regain strength, Sharp became familiar with rap artist Kodak Black. “Honestly, I’m just trying to be, I just gotta be,” one lyric said. “Trying to get over on anything.”

Before his freshman year, Beckner had scoffed at the idea of wearing a knee brace at practice. Now, he embraced Sharp’s process. On the final day of February 2016, he was able to jog on a treadmill for the first time since his injury.

Munlyn said football was everything to Beckner before he tore his ACL, and sitting out taught him there was more to life than just his favorite sport.

“I think that’s when everything changed for Terry,” she said.

He soon got another test.

Midway through the 2016 season, Beckner tore the ACL in his other knee during a game against Middle Tennessee. He was upset, but he knew what to expect from the season-ending injury. By January, he was two months ahead of his pace the year before.

Munlyn remembers seeing Beckner after the Middle Tennessee game. He immediately swore to bounce back.

“God did that a second time just to show his growth,” said Munlyn, a four-time All-American. “He wasn’t defeated this time, and I knew it was going to be different.”

Beckner has started every Missouri game since.

WHEN BECKNER WENT ON AN OFFICIAL VISIT TO MISSOURI as a high school senior, banners from hopeful fans lined Interstate 70. Their wishes turned out to be warranted: He became a face of the team by his final year on campus. Missouri put his picture on team-sponsored billboards near St. Louis — quite an upgrade from homemade banners.

Before Beckner’s senior season, the team voted him a captain. He earned second-team all-Southeastern Conference honors and he led Missouri with 11 tackles for loss.

His production on the field lent him credibility off it.

Linebacker Terez Hall, another captain, said Beckner “did a whole 180” from his freshman to senior year. He became more focused and by junior year started speaking up in defensive huddles.

Perhaps Beckner’s growth marked natural progression that comes with age, but it came when Missouri needed it. Hall said Beckner might have been the most important piece in a culture shift within the Tigers’ locker room.

“Once you got his voice, his piece of the puzzle, it kind of flipped the script,” Hall said.

Hall thought the team was too focused on individual success before he and Beckner’s junior year. Munlyn said she heard players complaining after practices, but that changed when Beckner was an upperclassman. They pushed to reach their goals.

Beckner said he took better care of his body as he got older. Teammates saw him frequently visit Sharp for treatment. His eliminated McDonalds from his diet before the 2018 season, and his work earned him the team’s nutrition award.

The changes Beckner and his teammates made paid dividends on the field. After going a combined 9-15 his freshman and sophomore years, the Tigers made bowl games Beckner’s final two years on campus.

His voice helped spark the team success senior year. The night before every Missouri game, the Tigers’ captains speak to the team in a players-only meeting. Beckner’s speech before MU’s Homecoming matchup against Memphis in October sticks out in fellow captain Paul Adams’ mind. Beckner told the Tigers they hadn’t done enough. Their record sat at .500, and he wanted to win their final six games.

“I was a vocal guy, but I wouldn’t speak when there wasn’t anything to be said,” Beckner said.

“Speak Terry!” teammates called as as Beckner talked. The Tigers won by 32 points the next day, and they finished the regular season on a 5-1 run. For the first time in Beckner’s college career, his team finished the regular season ranked.

BECKNER COULD HAVE DECLARED FOR THE NFL DRAFT after a strong junior season, but he said he never considered it much. His gut told him to stay, and he listened.

“The (junior) season was good, but I didn’t want to leave like that,” he said. “The program deserved a lot more than that. And just the bond that I had with my guys, being able to play with them again and really go out and finish it the right way was big for me.”

He also wanted to earn his degree. He’s taking online classes as he trains in Atlanta for the NFL Draft and is on pace to graduate in May as a general studies major.

“That was a big part of the reason he stayed back,” said Markus Golden, a former Missouri lineman now with the Arizona Cardinals. “It’s always about the degree. At the end of the day, you can’t play football forever.”

CBS Sports ranked Beckner as a top-100 draft prospect. The lineman earned an invitation to March’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Golden, who shares an agent with Beckner, praised his explosiveness and effort level. Beckner showed it in the 2018 Liberty Bowl, collecting three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

After the game, a heart-wrenching loss, Beckner spoke to his teammates in the locker room. He thanked them for their time together and urged the returning players to continue working hard.

“You get back and you keep trekking,” Beckner said.

He’ll do the same. Come next fall, that could carry him to an NFL debut.