By Taylor Hawkins
Coming from Benton Academy, a small private school in rural Mississippi, not many people gave Ben Beckwith much of a chance.
Beckwith was a big fish in a small pond with dreams of football glory. Armed with the knowledge that Mississippi private school kids rarely get football scholarships to big-time college programs, he went to football camps and worked out for the coaches of Mississippi State and Ole Miss in hopes of accomplishing his dream.
Despite a spectacular senior season at the high school located 10 miles east of Yazoo City, the dream seemed to be over when no scholarship offers arrived. Beckwith had to make a tough decision on whether or not he would continue his football journey.
He took a shot by walking on at MSU.
Beckwith believes that being overlooked fueled the proverbial fire and helped push him to his limits.
“It was tough not getting offers when people I knew around me from camps were,” Beckwith said. “I think that’s what made me even hungrier when I walked on. It was hard on me. You have to prove to the coaches that you aren’t the average walk-on. I worked really hard to prove myself.”
Fast forward five years, and the 6-foot-3, 305-pound senior has locked down a starting job on the line for the Bulldogs and has won the SEC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week twice in two separate positions. He is the first ever former walk-on to win the award and the third Bulldog to win it multiple times in a season.
Although the story of Beckwith will go down now as one of the greatest rags-to-riches tales in SEC history, Connie Beckwith, Ben’s mother, didn’t always see it that way.
“A lot of people don’t know the life of a walk-on,” Connie said. “He paid to play there for three years. For two years, he was pushed to the side. He’s played for all four of his years after his redshirt year, whether it was on special teams or on offense.”
The life of a walk-on is far from glamorous. Often walk-ons are left segregated from the rest of the team due to a multitude of NCAA rules.
“When they go get their book, you can’t go with the team,” Connie said. “When they have special eating events, you can’t eat with the team because you aren’t on scholarship. When they go to get things that the scholarship includes, you don’t get to join them. You have to be careful because of NCAA rules.”
Despite the isolation at times from his teammates and the bumps and bruises that came from the battles, Beckwith never lost sight of his goal.
“It didn’t work out for the longest time,” Connie said. “He wasn’t put on scholarship for a while. It wasn’t the money or anything. It was just his goal. He wanted to go prove that he was good enough to be there. That was his dream.”
Connie and her husband, Wayne, have traveled to every game Ben has played in throughout his career. They have seen the good times and bad.
After a game, most fans put it in the back of their minds until the next week. Connie and Wayne don’t have that luxury.
“It’s tough out there in the trenches,” Connie said. “Their bodies just get so exhausted and worn out. You don’t realize what their bodies go through. The swollen knees and elbows, the bruises that you never knew could exist, they never stop. People in the stands will question the line or the team, and they just don’t have a clue what those kids go up against every week.”
The road was not always easy, and the path to get onto the field was blocked for Beckwith, leading to a time of contemplation.
“As a redshirt freshman and then a freshman, I kept doing the same things over and over again,” Beckwith said. “I was still on special teams, but I really had no role on offense at all. All you can do is keep proving yourself, so that if someone goes down, the coaches feel comfortable putting you in. I kept getting frustrated because we had so many good guards on the team. A lot of those went to play in the (National Football) League. It was just tough.”
Through all of his trials and tribulations, Beckwith had just one serious moment of weakness, which drove him to phone home to his mother, his rock.
“It only happened one time,” Connie said. “One night he called me and said, ‘Momma, I’ve done everything I know to do. I’m not sure this is going to work out for me.’ I think he was down on himself, like maybe he thought he should’ve gotten in the rotation a little quicker or something. He was struggling to keep everything going. As a mother, you just want to make everything better, but sometimes, you just have to let them grow up and deal with it. I’ve had to step back at times to let him do that.”
The moment passed, and Beckwith pressed forward until he eventually reached his goal of earning the scholarship that he worked so hard to achieve.
Of course, before Beckwith could celebrate, he had one phone call to make.
“I was the first person he called when he found out,” Connie said. “He said, ‘Mom, I’ve achieved one of my goals. Coach Hevesy and Coach Mullen called me into their office and told me I earned my scholarship.’
“I just thought that was huge. He said he was glad it happened this way, and that he was glad to have earned it. I was just so proud.”