Derrick Beckom Jr. remembers the day he was told his dream was over.
As a freshman at Columbus High School, Beckom was once told by one of the Falcons’ coaches, “I don’t think you’ll ever play college football.”
Weighing just 135 pounds, Beckom was informed he was too small to play at the next level. The comment stuck with him.
“I still remember that day and still remember that moment and how I felt, and I told myself, ‘I won’t ever let anybody tell me that I can’t do something,’” he said.
Now on the verge of having his NFL dreams realized, the former Falcon has lived up to his own promise. He spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons playing for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and took the field for Division II Harding University in 2019.
On March 24, Beckom participated in Mississippi State’s pro day at Davis Wade Stadium. He turned heads with a strong performance, receiving interest from several professional teams ahead of Thursday’s NFL draft.
“It would mean a lot, honestly, especially because I’ve been working for this my whole life,” Beckom said. “It’s a blessing to be in this position right here.”
Given the opportunity to compete alongside former Columbus classmate Kylin Hill at the Bulldogs’ pro day, Beckom made the most of it. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound defensive back recorded a vertical jump of 34 inches and completed 15 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
“I feel like I had a good day,” he said.
Beckom and his agent at Maven Sports Group have each talked to several NFL teams. Maven, part of Cash Money Records, represents wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle La’el Collins and 15 players in the 2021 draft class.
It means Beckom has more of a team behind him than a lot of players from small colleges. Beckom admitted it can be an “uphill battle” for athletes at schools like Harding, a private Christian school in Searcy, Arkansas, with under 5,000 students.
“Coming from that smaller school, you don’t get exposure that smaller schools get,” Beckom said. “You don’t always get to play on TV every Saturday.”
But Beckom said he loved his time at Harding, even when the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four and a half hours from home, he still fit in.
“I went there not knowing anybody, but when I got there I was comfortable because of my coaches, who loved me the way I should have been loved as a player,” Beckom said.
He came to Harding after spending two years with the Bulldogs in Perkinston in the competitive Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference. Beckom said some players who joined him at Gulf Coast came in arrogant, thinking it was “just JUCO” and would be similar to high school. The level of competition soon proved them wrong.
“They learn quickly that it’s not just JUCO ball,” Beckom said. “You can’t underestimate the talent at the JUCO level.”
As a freshman, Beckom played in eight games at Gulf Coast, making 32 tackles and 14 assists and forcing a fumble. His sophomore season, he totaled 59 tackles and assists and forced two fumbles.
With Harding, Beckom made three starts in 12 games in 2019. He finished with 30 tackles — including two for a loss — and broke up two passes.
He said he’s put countless hours into the game in the weight room and on the practice field and that the extra work can make up for his relative lack of size.
“They can’t measure the size of your heart and how you play the game,” Beckom said. “Just because a player’s an inch or two shorter or five pounds smaller than the rest, that doesn’t mean that he can’t play up to the talent that a 6-foot defensive back has. It’s all about the mentality that you have, how you attack everything that you do, and that shows on the field.”
He’s not sure if he will hear his name called this weekend, but just having the chance to be alongside Hill is significant.
“It means a lot, definitely, having a chance to have two guys from Columbus High School be drafted in the same year,” Beckom said. “That would mean so much to this town — us able to represent this town at the NFL football level. I feel like we’ll both do a great job of that and be able to give back to this town in the future.”
Beckom already has plans for how he’ll do that. As a personal trainer, he hopes to work with athletes in all sports across the Golden Triangle, giving scholarships to those who don’t have the financial means to pay for their own training.
It will be his way of giving back after what could be a “life-changing” day coming up very soon.
“It’s going to be an emotional moment,” Beckom said.