Tavante Beckett’s mother gives him some tough love when it comes to football. Good plays are expected, while bad plays are not.
“A good play is like a pat on the back. Bad plays are like a really hard slap on the wrist,” Beckett joked.
However, one could credit that mentality for helping Beckett get to where he is. After moonlighting on special teams as a true freshman, Beckett has earned the opportunity to be in Virginia Tech’s two-deep this spring at Mike linebacker.
“I love Mike, just because I’m the leader,” Beckett said. “This is my defense when I’m at Mike. So on the second team, I feel like that’s my second team. I can lead the way, but also, it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s not like Backer. At Backer, you’re a leader, but Mike is doing most of the work. At Mike, I feel like I know the whole defense.”
Beckett, who signed in the Class of 2016 out of Indian River High School in Chesapeake, VA., impressed coaches and players alike right away.
“Since day one, he’s always been a hard-working guy,” said Tremaine Edmunds. “It’s like everyone else on the team, we come to practice every day trying to get better. He’s taking steps forward each and every day of practice and I think the spring is helping him out.”
This spring, Beckett moved to Mike from Backer, and now is the primary backup to Andrew Motuapuaka, a redshirt-senior. So far, Beckett is having a productive spring as the second Mike.
“This spring has been kind of good, kind of great,” Beckett said. “I feel like I know the defense now, now that I’ve moved positions. At Mike, you’ve got to know the whole defense. Last year, I kind of relied on the Mike to set the defense. This year, it’s kind of like I’m doing it myself.”
Beckett isn’t the most physically imposing player. At 5-foot-10 and 214-pounds, he is hardly the prototypical size for a linebacker. However, he still has a knack for making plays.
“He’s got some football savvy,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente. “I think that’s the first thing that you notice. Part of playing linebacker is somewhat instinctual, and he seems to have those instincts, the ability to kind of navigate tight spaces there on the line of scrimmage and avoid blocks, slide in there and make tackles. He’s very quick — short area quickness is something that stands out for him. He’s made huge improvements.”
Beckett has had to make his instincts coexist with his responsibilities in Bud Foster’s defensive scheme. Instead of always shooting gaps to make plays in the backfield, linebackers must maintain their gaps, and sometimes give themselves up to allow another player to make the tackle.
“I’ve just been playing this position for so long throughout my whole life,” Beckett said. “Instincts just come to me. It’s kind of good and bad, because in our defense, you can’t always follow your instincts, you have to be in your gap and follow the defense. Sometimes following your instincts can be wrong and can cost you, cost you a big touchdown. Most of the time, they lead me in the right way.”
Beckett is enjoying the increased responsibilities that come with playing Mike for Virginia Tech. When he was working at Backer last season, Beckett often relied on the Mike to make calls and align the defense. Now, that’s on him.
“In 5-10 seconds, you have to know a lot and call it out,” Beckett said. “Those linemen, they’re kind of relying on you to call out the shades. I’ve never had to call out a shade in high school or at Backer. I kind of relied on the Mike to call out the shades. Now, it’s like I’m calling out the shades, I’m looking at the receivers, tackles, quarterback, running back, you got to know all that at Mike. As tough as it may seem, it’s good that it has to be like that, because you know what to expect.”
Fortunately for Beckett, he’ll have a chance to develop before being called upon as a starter. Both Motuapuaka and Edmunds are entrenched at linebacker for this season, and they have served as role models for Beckett.
“Just watching them every day, seeing how they go about their day and their life,” Beckett said. “It’s not really just on the field, it’s off the field too. You see how they carry themselves. You got to respect it because they’re not one of those actors, where they act like a captain on the field, but off the field, they’re totally different. They’re acting on and off the field like leaders.”
Getting valuable reps with the second team should put Beckett in prime position to compete for a starting job in 2018. Virginia Tech signed four linebackers in the Class of 2017 in Rayshard Ashby, Jaylen Griffin, Dylan Rivers and Rico Kearney. Ashby and Kearney could play Mike, but Beckett will have a leg up on them.
Beckett will also continue to play on multiple special teams units, where younger players often make a name for themselves. Beckett said he’s working on all of Virginia Tech’s special teams units this spring, and that he welcomes the extra workload.
“It’s good though, because I wouldn’t want to be dressing out just to be there,” Beckett said. “I really want to make an impact on this team and kind of make plays, show these fans what I can do.”