Beavers eager to prove worth
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Sure, Larry Beavers didn’t face the best competition in college last fall. But still, 39.5 yards per kickoff return and 29.2 yards on punts with eight combined touchdowns?
“One little hole, I shot through there,” Beavers said Monday, grinning. “With my speed, it was hard for people to catch me. All I had to do was make the kicker miss.”
The eye-popping numbers at tiny Wesley College in Dover, Del., weren’t good enough to get him drafted in April. But the Carolina Panthers quickly signed the speedy and confident Beavers even if he is undersized and untested.
Holder of the NCAA all-divisions career record with 13 kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns, Beavers has set his sights on winning Carolina’s open kick returning job.
“He’s definitely fast,” veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad said.
Growing up in Annapolis, Md., Beavers was a track star and a decent football player. He said there was a simple reason why he ended up at Wesley: “I was a 5-10, 145-pound quarterback.”
Beavers, who excelled at sprints, got some scholarship offers for track but wanted to play football. Trouble was, he didn’t start returning kicks regularly until his senior year in high school.
“Wesley was a school that wanted me to play football,” Beavers said. “So I said, ‘I’m gone. I’m there.’ I fell in love with it.”
Beavers shined with the Wolverines, who regularly go deep in the NCAA Division III playoffs, and then had a breakout season in his senior year.
He returned a kickoff and punt for touchdowns against Gallaudet. He ran back two kickoffs for TDs against Webber International. He was also the team’s top receiver and in the offseason set the school record in the 100 meters at 10.74 seconds.
There’s a YouTube video of Beavers running the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds. But he claims he bested that mark a year ago in a workout for his coach, Mike Drass.
“My coach said I ran a 4.25, but he hasn’t let it be known,” Beavers said.
Teams came to see him work out before the draft, then Panthers special teams coach Danny Crossman made a second visit. That gave Carolina the edge when other teams started calling after the draft.
“Kansas City, Cincinnati, they all wanted to (sign me),” said Beavers, who now weighs 167 pounds. “But I wanted to be here from Day One. There wasn’t a choice to go anywhere else.”
The Panthers let last year’s kick returner, Mark Jones, leave for Tennessee in free agency. Ryne Robinson, who held the job in 2007 but missed last season with a knee injury, is trying to regain the job. Beavers as well as fellow rookies Mike Goodson and Captain Munnerlyn are pushing him.
Beavers, who made a juggling, one-handed grab while playing receiver in Monday’s optional workout, has been shadowing veteran receivers Muhammad and Steve Smith.
Muhammad believes Beavers has much to learn about the nuances of the game. Smith, who is similarly undersized and played at a junior college before transferring to Utah, feels Beavers could make it.
“I think if you’re here and you have a uniform it doesn’t matter what school you went to,” Smith said. “Some of the best first-round draft picks generally have flaked out.”
Beavers acknowledges the holes are a lot smaller at the NFL level and it won’t be as easy as it was returning a punt for a touchdown against Lake Erie College. But he’s confident that if he finds a hole, he’ll be tough to catch.
“I think I can get faster,” Beavers said. “Hopefully I’ll get a chance to prove myself.”