He didn’t stay on the ground long.
Oh, Brandon Beaver felt the pop in his knee. Heard it, too. And he knew exactly what it meant. But in that moment, during Washington’s Oct. 17 game against Oregon last season, Beaver tried to trick himself into thinking he was fine, so he made his way to the sideline as soon as he stood up.
“I got up pretty fast. I jogged off the field,” Beaver said. “I don’t think anybody knew what happened to me except my teammates.”
Beaver’s denial lasted about a day, soon contradicted by the results of a magnetic resonance imaging scan: He had indeed torn the ACL in his knee.
His season was over. His career, he thought, might also be in jeopardy. And his emotions were further complicated by the fact his girlfriend, Cortney, was pregnant at the time with their son, who was due in December.
“When I got hurt, that was the first thing I thought about, because he was going to be born in December and I’m thinking, ‘My career’s over; what am I going to do now?’ ” Beaver said. “So it was kind of hard on me. It was very emotional for me because I had my son on the way.”
For that very reason, though, Beaver put everything he had into rehabilitating his knee in time for his fifth-year senior season. Brandon Beaver Jr. beat Christmas by two days, born Dec. 23, around the time his dad ditched his crutches and started walking on his own again. Junior was at graduation in June, too, watching his dad receive his bachelor’s degree in American Ethnic Studies. He was always in his dad’s mind during rehab – the first two weeks of which, Beaver said, were “the worst two weeks of my life” – a constant reminder of the greater purpose only a parent can know.
And yes, the little guy was at Husky Stadium on Saturday, when his dad intercepted a pass in the third quarter of UW’s season opener against Rutgers and returned it 46 yards before being tackled at the 4-yard line.
It reminded of last season, before he got hurt, when Beaver intercepted a pass against Utah State and returned it 96 yards – the longest interception return in UW history – before running out of gas. He was tackled at the 3-yard line. He laughed about it afterward, and so did his teammates.
Saturday’s play, given how far away such a moment might have seemed last October, meant much more.
“It’s so gratifying,” UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “People don’t realize the grueling process it is to come back from an ACL surgery. First, you go through the surgery; that’s a big setback right there. Then all the rehab, and then coming out on the football field and trying to play fast with a repaired knee. I just love how tough he was through the whole process. Battled to get back. He kept his mind sharp, keeping up on all the defenses. I’m just so proud he was able to make a play in his first game back.”
Beaver is a second-string free safety in the Huskies’ loaded secondary. He played a bunch against Rutgers, in the first half to give star safety Budda Baker a breather and in the second half with the score out of hand in a 48-13 Huskies victory.
Similar opportunities might present themselves Saturday against Idaho and Sept. 17 against Portland State. Lake said he’ll continue to give UW’s backups regular playing time.
“We have a luxury right now of being able to rotate a few guys through there,” Lake said, and Beaver is one of them.
Beaver, a native of Long Beach, Calif., said Cortney and Brandon Jr. are home in California, where his parents can spend time with their grandson. Beaver misses his son but has plans to occupy his nonfootball time this season, including participating in a mentorship program with inner-city youth.
Brandon Jr. will be back in Seattle for Senior Day. His dad knows he won’t remember it. But he wants his son to be in the photos, if only so he can look back and know he was part of the journey.
“Just to have something for him to see when he gets older,” Beaver said, “so I’ll have a story to tell him about how I never gave up on my dreams.”
Beaver could also show Brandon Jr. the blog post he published Dec. 26, one day after Brandon and Cortney took Junior home from the hospital.
That day, Beaver wrote, in part: “When I finally got to hold you I finally figured out what LOVE is. You make me want to be perfect, you make me want to be way better than what I already sought out to be, you make me make my goals bigger and at the same time you give me the confidence to achieve them.”
So, no. Brandon Beaver did not stay on the ground long. He instead pulled himself back up, and now here he is, standing taller than ever before.