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Spurned by Division I, II schools, Beaver puts together spectacular Whitewater career

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JOHN N. BARRY
December 11, 2007
— Too small.

Too short.


Too slow.


That was the scouting report on Justin Beaver coming out of Palmyra-Eagle High School.


At 5-foot-9 and less than 180 pounds, Beaver would never hold up to the day-to-day pounding of NCAA Division II football, skeptics said. And Beaver didn’t have sprinter’s speed, so nobody in Division II or above was willing to take a chance on a kid who didn’t live up to the so-called standards.


Well, as Toby Keith crooned in his country classic, “How Do You Like Me Now?”


Beaver, a UW-Whitewater senior, will accept the 2007 Gagliardi Trophy on Thursday in Salem, Va. The award is given to the top player in NCAA Division III football and is the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.


After receiving the award, Beaver will continue to prepare with his teammates for the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl—the NCAA Division III national championship game—against Mount Union (Ohio) on Saturday afternoon at Salem Stadium. The game will be on ESPN at 3 p.m.


Despite being told too many times that he wasn’t good enough for a college scholarship, Beaver holds no animosity toward his detractors.


“Looking back, I think things turned out perfectly for me,” he said. “I’m about to play in my third straight Stagg Bowl, and the whole Whitewater experience has been fantastic.


“I’m not mad about not being able to play DII or DI because then none of this would’ve been possible.


“And I didn’t win this (Gagliardi award) without a lot of help along the way from my family, coaches and teammates.”


Beaver’s statistics are beyond impressive.


He is second all-time in Division III rushing with 6,355 yards, including 2,206 this season. He holds the Division III season rushing record of 2,420, which he set in 2005—a year in which led collegiate football at all levels.


In three seasons as the featured back, Beaver has led the Warhawks to a 41-3 record and three straight Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) titles.


Beaver’s work ethic sets him apart and can be closely linked to his success at Whitewater. A weight-room junkie, Beaver is now a rock-solid 200 pounds.


Doug Parker, Beaver’s football coach at Palmyra-Eagle, said he’s not surprised that his star pupil has excelled. After leading Palmyra-Eagle to the WIAA state semifinals in 2002, Beaver has continued his winning ways at Whitewater.


“You can’t measure the size of a kid’s heart by a tape measure,” Parker said of Beaver. “He was told time and time again that he was too small coming out of high school to be a scholarship player.


“For those same coaches who told Justin he wasn’t good enough to be at that level, I hope they’re enjoying a big plate of crow right now. I’m not surprised he’s done as well as he has, and I don’t think anyone that knows Justin is, either.”


Beaver credits his grandparents—Donald and Joanne Beaver—for instilling confidence and the desire to overcome every obstacle that he encountered growing up. Justin’s parents battled tough times off and on, so Grandma and Grandpa Beaver became his caretakers.


“My parents were real young when they had me,” Justin said. “Like a lot of young parents, bringing a child into the world is a big responsibility. I kind of went back and forth between living with mom and dad before grandma and grandpa stepped in.


“They always welcomed me with open arms,” Justin said of his grandparents. “There was always a hot meal and a bed to sleep in.


“I think more than anything, the rough times that I had as a child pushed me even harder.”


Nobody’s pushed Beaver harder than he has. Beaver spent the last two summers working out at the Pewaukee gymnasium of former University of Wisconsin and NFL player Joe Panos. Beaver hopes to get the opportunity to play next fall on Sunday afternoons, but he realizes that Saturday’s game may be his last opportunity to shine in football.


Saturday’s opponent is to NCAA Division III football what the New England Patriots have been to the NFL—a dynasty. Mount Union will be shooting for its 11th national title in 15 years, but Beaver said that’s even more motivation for the Warhawks, the runners-up the last two years.


“Nobody outside our team is expecting us to win, and that’s what’s pushing us right now,” Beaver said. “We know they’re good, but we’re not in awe of them.


“We’ve got a lot of guys that have played in the Stagg Bowl the last two years, too. We know what we’ve done wrong and what needs to be corrected. I can’t wait for Saturday.”


But first, he has to pick up an award Thursday.


One that’s not too small.


By the numbers
6,355

Career rushing yardage
2,206

2007 rushing total
2,420

2006 rushing total (NCAA Division III record)
1,257

Career rushing attempts
44

Career touchdowns
5.1

Career rushing average per carry

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