Bielema is Beckum's biggest supporter
When Bret Bielema was a linebacker coach at the University of Iowa in 2001, a Hawkeye player asked the now-University of Wisconsin head coach if he had a future in the profession.
The player excelled at every practice drill for the lnebackers, but the kid just couldn't play on Saturdays.
"Didn't play a lick on the field," Bielema said last week at the Big Ten Conference media day. "I thought I was a failure as a coach."
The player was moved to tight end. After two years there, the player—Dallas Clark—became the 24th pick of the first round of the 2003 draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Now, after Clark has caught 179 passes in three seasons with the Colts, many NFL followers believe he will be one of the top offensive threats in the league this season.
This is not meant to be a "the rest of the story" feature.
But Clark's story is similar to that of Travis Beckum. The University of Wisconsin senior came to Madison after being named the state high school player of the year at Oak Creek High at linebacker.
Rivals.com rated him as the No. 6 linebacker in the country. In his senior season in 2004, Beckum made 108 tackles, had 16 quarterback sacks, made seven interceptions and eight fumble recoveries and blocked four kicks.
But that did not transfer at the college level. He made just two tackles his freshman season as a reserve.
Bielema was a co-head coach with Barry Alvarez that season as Alvarez prepared to step down as the head man. When watching Beckum, Bielema thought of Clark.
"One of the first times I had (Travis) on the field, I went into the lockerroom and said, ‘That is Dallas Clark,'" Bielema said.
When Beckum didn't fulfill the staff's expectations at linebacker, Bielema suggested the switch to tight end.
"Certain kids have football vision that corners them into certain positions," Bielema said. "Travis is a great athlete that can run and catch, who does very well when you tell him where to go and how to get there.
"Defensive players have to be reactive," Bielema said. "They have to understand how to close. It's different."
Beckum took to the switch immediately. As a sophomore in 2006, Beckum caught 61 passes for 903 yards for five touchdowns and was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end.
Last season, with Tyler Donovan taking over as starting quarterback, Beckum caught 75 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns and earned consensus All-Big Ten honors.
Not bad for a reserve linebacker.
So good, in fact, that Beckum could have been in an NFL team's camp now, instead of preparing for the Badgers' opening day of camp Monday.
But after an NFL evaluation committee put Beckum's draft status at less than what he expected, Beckum decided to return to school.
"If a kid is going to be a No. 1 draft pick, I have a very hard time telling him to come back," Bielema said. "But he was on board 100 percent."
Beckum said he came back because he can see his draft status "skyrocketing" with what he expects from himself this season. He doesn't expect to go backward.
"I don't think my coaches will let me," he said.
Beckum's two-catch performance against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl loss might have led to his coming back. Beckum clearly was frustrated by the Volunteer defense taking away his favorite crossing routes—so much so that Bielema had to grab him during halftime.
"That frustrates Travis," Bielema said. "What he can't allow himself to do is get wrapped up in that."
One of the items the evaluating committee said would hurt Beckum in the draft was his weight. He played at 215 pounds last year, but is at 235 going into Monday's opening day of camp.
One of the major question marks for the Badgers going into camp is at quarterback. Senior Allan Evridge, who saw limited action behind last year's starter Tyler Donovan, and junior Dustin Sherer are the top candidates for the starting job.
Beckum shrugs off any thought that his performance will decline because of the uncertainty.
"There hasn't been a time when I've had the same quarterback two years in a row," he said. "I can work with both quarterbacks."
Whatever quarterback wins the starting spot, he'll be looking for Beckum in critical situations on Saturdays.
And Bielema would love to see his No. 9 match the exploits that Clark accomplished when he was in Iowa City.
"Dallas is very fluid," Bielema said. "Dallas is a great competitor like Travis. When I watch them, when I coached them, they were the same type of player."
Badger fans hope that proves to be true again this season.