Beal's story circles home

Oklahoma linebacker Emmanuel Beal makes a tackle during the Sooners’ game against UTEP Saturday at Owen Field. Beal went to high school in the Columbus, Ohio, area, where OU plays at Ohio State Saturday night.

Bill Reiss would hand out Lackawanna College’s weekly scouting reports, better known to players as “install packets.”

Outside linebacker Emmanuel Beal snatched his packet each week, pulled out a pencil, traced over the lines and shapes of his position assignment, then began erasing.

Then, he would start scrawling again.

“I’m like, ‘Beal, what are you doing?’” said Reiss, Lackawanna’s defensive coordinator. “Seldom did anyone else do that.

“He’d say, ‘I just gotta understand it.’”

Beal embraced the grind and urgency of junior college life, long before landing safely in Norman as a key piece of fifth-ranked Oklahoma’s defense heading into Saturday’s primetime clash at No. 2 Ohio State.

A stealthy outside linebacker, he has started 11 straight games for the Sooners dating back to last season, his debut campaign after being signed in OU’s 2016 class, which featured three players from Lackawanna.

Saturday’s showdown in Columbus is 15 minutes from Beal’s high school in Reynoldsburg, in the heart of the Rust Belt where a thirst for football is never quenched.

As of Tuesday, he was in negotiations with OU teammates for game tickets, ones he needs for his family and friends.

“I’m up to eight,” Beal said.

He still needs six.

This homecoming is Beal’s full-circle moment. He pushed football aside four years ago. Michigan State recruited him in high school, but he didn’t have the grades to keep the Spartans interested.

He spent much of the next year working in a Columbus-area factory.

“From 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. … Every day,” Beal said. “Then I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’”

Beal weighed 195 pounds when he contacted Lackawanna College about walking on for the 2014 season. Reiss and the other Falcon coaches — located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, offices eight hours from Beal’s home — were unaware of him. They saw a kid without a position, an undersized defensive end.

They took Beal on, but he went un-recruited for nearly two years.

“Sitting there, empty hands, like ‘What am I gonna do?’” Beal said.

Late into his second season, around the time his daughter was born, Beal’s recruitment picked up. He had shifted from defensive end to linebacker, and his skill set became more clear.

He possessed impressive speed and had a knack for grasping fundamentals. Offers from Arizona, New Mexico, Penn State and Utah State arrived.

“Then here comes Oklahoma,” Beal said.

His decision to commit to the Sooners pulled him even farther away from home, and was made possible with a blessing from his girlfriend. She made only one request.

“She was like, if you’re gonna go there, you better make something happen,” Beal said.

And he has.

Beal earned a starting opportunity in 2016 when injuries struck the linebacking corps. He finished second on the team with 81 tackles.

When OU shifted from a 3-4 defense — the alignment Beal played in junior college, as well as his first season in Norman — to a 4-3 base, Beal’s days scribbling in scouting reports in Scranton came in handy. He made sure the transition went smoothly on his end.

“That kid really works hard. It matters to him,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

Saturday presents a stage for OU’s linebackers in the new system. Their playmaking is a point of emphasis after the Sooners surrendered nearly 300 rushing yards to the Buckeyes a year ago.

Watch for Beal, who at 6-foot, 218 pounds, is flourishing.

“He always seems to be in good body position,” sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly said. “He’s a smaller guy, but that makes him faster, and he’s not a weak guy. He can hit those big, 300-pound guys in there.”

Said senior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, “I don’t know why he doesn’t get a lot more attention than he does, his stats are there.”

Those numbers were born out of his blue-collar journey. Beal’s path from a factory floor to the misty lights of The Horseshoe has been paved with work and spit, and pencils and paper.

His junior college defensive coach saw it from the beginning.

“He stuck out in my mind,” Reiss said, “because he just wanted it more than anyone else.” 

This Week's Circulars