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The Resurrection of Dorial Green-Beckham

By Lars Anderson

Chapter 1: Through Family & Faith, DGB Rises from Darkness

The Rise of DGB'

Dorial celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Auburn. (John Bazemore/AP Photo)

Alone in his small apartment, alone in the dark of his living room, alone in the silence, he felt like the end had arrived.

On this spring evening one year ago in Columbia, Missouri, he never wanted to show his face anywhere again. He wished he could just run—the thing he does best—and disappear into the wind.

It was April 11, 2014, and Dorial Green-Beckham, the young man in a mature man's body, had just spoken over the phone with Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, who told him that he was no longer on the Tigers football team. Dorial knew he had made mistakes, serious mistakes, but this? He didn't see it coming. No one who knew him did.

He hung up his cellphone and collapsed onto the couch in his living room. When he flipped on the television, he saw the news of his dismissal flash on the screen, deepening his despair.

The wide receiver who never knew his biological father, who bounced around foster homes for years, who even was homeless for a stretch, never felt so isolated. Football had saved his life, the structure and rhythms of the violent game filling him with peace and purpose, but now it was all gone.

Yet the narrative doesn't end here—this is no story of wasted gifts—because the man Dorial calls Dad was coming.

Earlier Pinkel had phoned John Beckham at his home in Springfield, Missouri, and told him he was about to kick his adopted son off the football team. Beckham immediately hopped into his black Honda Odyssey and lead-footed it to be at Dorial's side.

Along the way on the 170-mile drive, coaches from 32 schools left messages on Beckham's cellphone, all of them stating they'd welcome Dorial—the consensus top recruit in the nation in 2012, a 6'5", 237-pound force of nature who runs a 4.4 40—onto their football team with open arms.

John Beckham walked into his son's apartment, where he found Dorial still lying alone in the darkness of the living room. The father tenderly told his son that he loved him, that everything would be OK, that his future was still freighted with possibility.

"You're going to bounce back from this," John told Dorial. "Learn from this and grow. Now let's go get something to eat and talk about what we're going to do next. A lot of people want you."

The two strolled into the cool Midwestern night side by side. And so began the second act in the college career of Dorial Green-Beckham, who many scouts will tell you is by far the most tantalizing prospect in this year's NFL draft.

Chapter 2. The Next Calvin Johnson?

It's a mid-March morning in suburban St. Louis, and an NFL player is catching passes at a workout facility. Montee Ball has witnessed a lot in his two years as a running back with the Denver Broncos—the rebirth of Peyton Manning, a record-setting passing attack, receivers who routinely torch defensive backs—but he's never seen anything quite like the sight of 21-year-old Dorial Green-Beckham, aka DGB, sidling into this complex.

Ball goes bug-eyed at the sheer size of DGB, as if he just spied a lean Bigfoot emerging from the pines.

Green-Beckham performs a series of 10-yard sprints—he explodes off the line with the fury of a thoroughbred charging out of the starting gate—and then casually jumps on top of a few stacked wooden boxes, a ho-hum leap of 42 inches, over and over.

Ball is watching it all, and he's in thrall to DGB. Ball has stopped his own workout simply to gaze and marvel at the athlete 20 feet away who looks lifted from the sketchbook of Michelangelo.

"They don't make receivers in the NFL that look like that other than Calvin Johnson," said Ball, his eyes still locked on Green-Beckham, who is the same height and weight as Johnson. "I've never seen or met Dorial before, but just by looking at him you can tell that this kid is going to be a matchup nightmare. Wow. He's about to get paid. Just…wow."

A few minutes later, after Ball has finished his workout, he packs his duffel bag. Green-Beckham spots Ball nearing an exit. "Yo Montee!" DGB yells across the facility. "Tell Peyton if he needs some help to give me a call!"

"Will do, man," says Ball. "We'd love to have you."

It’s no stretch to suggest that Green-Beckham is the greatest mystery in this year's NFL draft. He only played two years of college football at Missouri—in 25 games he had 87 receptions for 1,278 yards and 17 touchdowns—before sitting out last season as a transfer to Oklahoma.

There isn't much tape to watch of DGB, but there are flashes that fire the imagination, such as when he scored four touchdowns against Kentucky in November 2013 and when, a month later, he eviscerated the Auburn defense for 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game.

In those moments he looks like a young Randy Moss, only bigger. And the thing is, he was just scratching the outer edges of his breathtaking, budding talent.

But it's questions about his character that have NFL teams digging into the bedrock of his life with the zeal of FBI profilers. He was arrested twice on marijuana charges (he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of trespassing in one case; the other was dismissed).

Then in the early morning hours of April 6, 2014, an 18-year-old woman claimed that Green-Beckham forced his way into her apartment and pushed another woman "down at least four stairs," according to the Columbia Daily Tribune's David Morrison, who cited the police report. No charges were ever filed, but five days later Pinkel booted his star receiver off his team.

The news came as a shock both to John Beckham and his son because, according to his adoptive mother, Dorial was never interviewed by the police on the matter.

"I clearly have put myself in bad situations in the past and I truly regret that," Dorial said over lunch in St. Louis in March. "I've hurt a lot of people around me. I let them down and I let my home state down. I need to do better and I will do better. I've learned so much."

Green-Beckham met individually with nearly every team at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February. In person he's contrite about his past, articulate and engaging. His eyes are bright with curiosity, as if he's always seeing things in amazement for the first time. He constantly turns on his incandescent smile—his teeth gleam like a row of piano keys—and he carries himself with the confidence of someone who understands he's a one-in-a-gazillion athlete.

So how did he do in his interviews in Indy?

"He was great with our team," said one NFC scout. "He owned up to his past missteps, and it's been impressive what he's done with his life since he was dismissed by Missouri. No one wants to gush publicly about Dorial because they don't want other teams to know how much they think of him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he goes very early in the draft, like maybe as high as 10 or 12. But who knows? He also could fall out of the first round. He's a great unknown."

"I watched every target he had in 2013, and DGB had no idea what he was doing out there," said Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft guru. "But he tilted the field because of his size, speed and strength. Teams are going to have tough decisions to make with this kid. At the combine he did everything he was asked to do. He ran fast [4.49 40] and caught the ball well."

"You want kids who perform well when the bright lights are on, and DGB does that."

"DGB is going to be a huge mismatch player on the perimeter of the field in the NFL," said Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager with the Cleveland Browns who now runs the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. "In the red zone he can elongate and go get the ball with the best of them coming out of college. He's not a polished route-runner yet, but there is just so, so much upside with him. … You just don't know what's going on in his head."

But know this about Green-Beckham: No matter what his future holds, he already believes that he's flush with riches. After all, he won life's lottery years ago when he was saved by a coach and his big-hearted wife.

Chapter 3. Sports Saved My Life

He was dead. That was what the doctors said.

It was early 1993, and Charmelle Green, six months pregnant, was rushed to a hospital in Springfield. As Dorial's adoptive mother, Tracy Beckham, tells it, Green had mixed alcohol with a potent combination of several drugs, including crack and Demerol. The ER doctors kept Green alive but later informed her that they couldn't hear the heartbeat of the baby in her belly.

But oh, that baby was a fighter. It may have been faint, but the baby's heart never stopped lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dubbing. A few months later, Green gave birth to a son, whom she named Dorial. From the very beginning, the third of Green's six children was a long shot.

A single mother, Charmelle Green struggled with alcohol abuse, according to Dorial. At one point when Dorial was in early grade school the family was evicted from public housing in Springfield. For a month they all lived in a van a concerned friend had given to Charmelle. "It was crowded in that van," Dorial recalled. "But we had each other."

Not for long: When Dorial was in fourth grade, he and his siblings were placed into foster care. They were constantly moved from one address to the next—five days in this basement, seven days on the other side of town in this living room, two months in another stranger's den.

One time a foster family kept Dorial and two of his brothers for only one day because the family quickly decided that the brothers were too much to handle.

With each move, Dorial became more distrustful—and more frightened of what could strike out of the shadows next.

Often there wasn't a bed for Dorial in the places he stayed. So many nights he would grab a blanket and curl up on the floor. When he couldn't slip into dreamland, he'd lie awake and fantasize about what it would be like to be connected to a family. More than anything, he longed to feel like a normal child—even if he didn't know what that really meant.

He certainly didn't look a normal child. By seventh grade Dorial was over 6'0". He could dunk a basketball—sports, even then, came as natural to him as flight to a bird—and no matter where he was staying in Springfield, he always found the nearest basketball hoop.

Often by himself, Dorial would shoot baskets until nightfall, creating his own world where all that mattered was the ball and the rim. It was his sweet escape; when the basketball was in his hands, anything felt possible, unloosening dreams in Dorial. "My way out was sports," he said. "I knew it."

He began playing organized football in seventh grade. He started as a running back, but in eighth grade—at which point he was 6'1"—he moved to receiver. "There is no question that sports saved my life," Dorial said. "They were my release. [It seemed] like there was trouble around every corner when I was growing up. But I stayed active with sports. They gave me structure when my life didn't have very much structure."

Green-Beckham with his family

Dorial celebrating with family after the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. (Courtesy of Tracy Beckham)

The turning point in Dorial's childhood came in eighth grade. His second-oldest half-brother, Sam Smith, was a freshman at Hillcrest High, where the football coach was John Beckham. The coach knew of the family's hardships; Dorial's oldest half-brother, Vincent Tate, had played a few games for Beckham a year earlier but then was injured. He stopped attending practices and then school.

Beckham was determined to have a better outcome with Sam Smith.

Sam told Beckham and his wife, Tracy, about his two younger half-brothers, Dorial and Darnell Green. They were living with Smith in the Boys and Girls Town of Missouri, a home in Springfield for neglected children. Before games on Friday nights, Tracy would drive to their group home and pick up Dorial and Darnell. Then she would sit with them in the grandstands as they watched their older brother. Perched on the edge of his seat, Dorial would be hypnotized by the action, and he quietly predicted to Tracy, "That's going to be me soon."

After games Tracy would drive the brothers to a McDonald's. They always were alarmingly hungry to Tracy, and she would buy them enough food—usually a few McDoubles each with extra fries—to keep them full for the rest of the night. But what were they eating when she wasn't around? Tracy became burdened with worry.

Over time Dorial started to open up to Tracy. He asked Tracy if he could travel to away games with her to towns such as Joplin and Waynesville and Lebanon. Of course, she said, and the two would talk and talk as the miles clicked off the odometer.

He told her about his itinerant childhood, the lonely nights in strange and cold rooms, how he wished he had a father figure in his life. Tracy's heart broke a little more with each detail he shared about the Dickensian nightmare his life had become, and she silently vowed to help Dorial and his brothers however she could.

Then, one night in November of 1996, they vanished. The three brothers all were taken from the group home in Springfield by a social worker and placed with family members in St. Louis. Dorial lived in a violence-ridden East St. Louis neighborhood with his grandmother, but she worked two jobs as a housekeeper and a nursing home assistant, so she wasn't home often. Within weeks Dorial, adrift and feeling more alone than ever, had lost 10 pounds. All of the brothers wanted to go back to Springfield, and finally Sam Smith phoned Tracy.

"Can I come stay with you?" he asked Tracy.

She couldn't say no, and Sam moved in. Then Dorial and Darnell asked if they could join their brother in the Beckhams' basement, which featured a large bedroom and a bathroom. At first the Beckhams tried to locate another foster family in Springfield for Dorial and Darnell but were unsuccessful. John then gave the move the green light.

Around midnight a social worker knocked on the door at the Beckhams' four-bedroom, three-bathroom home located outside of Springfield on 60 acres of farmland. The door opened, and there stood 13-year-old Dorial and his younger brother, Darnell. The boys darted downstairs.

They would never want for another home again.

Chapter 4. DGB Emerges as the Nation's Top Recruit

For months Dorial kept to himself. When he was in the house he rarely strayed from the basement. "Dorial was quiet and withdrawn," said John Beckham, who along with his wife has taken in over 20 foster children over the years. "All three brothers had been through so much. They didn't trust anybody. A lot of kids like that think if they do one thing wrong they'll be forced to leave and be uprooted again. We just had to spend time with them to build up the relationship."

John started to play catch with Dorial in the front yard. As they would toss the ball back and forth, Dorial began to talk—about his dreams, his fears of being left alone, his desire to be a part of a family. John would simply listen and be fully engaged in the moment, as if the words pouring out of Dorial were the most important he ever heard, as vital as the air he breathed. It was Parenting 101.

It also took John about 30 seconds to realize that Dorial possessed blue-moon-rare athletic ability, as sublime as any he'd ever seen in a 13-year-old. John threw all kinds of passes at young Dorial—fastballs, over-the-shoulder balls, balls that John swore were out of reach. The kid caught everything.

After one pitch-and-catch session, John told his wife, "If things go well, by the time Dorial is a senior he could be the No. 1 player in the state." John never imagined Dorial could one day become the No. 1 recruit in the nation; his wildest dreams didn't stretch that far.

More time passed. Then one evening Dorial and Darnell sauntered up from the basement and into the Beckhams' bedroom, where they lay on the bed with them to watch television. It was a small act, but it showed the boys were growing comfortable with the Beckhams, that they finally were feeling like they had found home. When the brothers left a few hours later to go downstairs, John turned to Tracy and said, "I think we just crossed the threshold with them. We're reaching them."

But it was a slow process, teaching the boys what it was like to live in a home filled with love. At their first Thanksgiving together Tracy cooked a traditional feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing—all the finger-licking fixings. But Dorial and Darnell refused to eat.

"We had a lot of people over at the house and they just weren't comfortable," Tracy said. "They were so used to only eating fast food like McDonald's that they really didn't know what a home meal was. It broke your heart. I offered Darnell $5 to eat some turkey, but he just wouldn't do it. Neither would Dorial. It just took time for them to realize what a real home was."

Yet Dorial was always at ease on the football field, where he became a starter on the Hillcrest football team during preseason camp of his freshman year.

Hillcrest's first game of the season was against West Plains High. On the first play of the game Beckham told Dorial just to run straight down the field and ordered the quarterback to loft a deep ball—a play so simple it could have been drawn up in the dirt. But the defensive back had no chance as Dorial rose into the air, snatched the ball and galloped a total of 80 yards for the touchdown. It all looked so effortless, and it was virtually the last time in Dorial's high school career that he would face single coverage.

But he wasn't done. On Hillcrest's next offensive play, Dorial ran a drag route across the field, caught the ball and then outran two defenders who appeared to have the angle on him for a 75-yard touchdown. After the game Dorial was so happy he couldn't help doing backflips on the field.

His sophomore year was unlike any other athlete's in the history of the state. Dorial was named the Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year in football, led Hillcrest to the state title in basketball and won state titles in the 100-meter dash and the triple jump.

But the high point of that year for Dorial occurred in a courtroom when a judge declared that both Dorial and Darnell were now the legally adopted sons of the Beckhams, who have adopted a total of eight children. It was Dorial who asked to be adopted, and he was so proud to be a member of the family that he took John and Tracy's last name.

DGB was born.

Even the judge, who knew of the boys' struggles from his years on the bench in family court, grew misty-eyed when the proceedings finished. Dorial and his brother would never again have to worry about someone coming to snatch them from home in the dead of night; the boogeyman no longer lurked in the bushes.

And to this day, DGB's most treasured photo remains the one that was taken of his family in the courtroom moments after the adoption was formalized. His smile in the picture—so big, so bright—reinforces what he tells you: It was the most beautiful moment of his life.

Green-Beckham's most treasured possesion.'

Dorial celebrates with his family at the courthouse after being officially adopted. (Courtesy of Tracy Beckham)

"It was a big relief," Dorial said. "Moving from home to home, never being in one place is really hard. Now we have a mom and dad. They showed us what a family is and what it can be."

After every game in high school, the first fan out of the stands to sprint to Dorial was his little sister, Eliza, the Beckhams' daughter who was born in 2005. She would jump into his arms, and Dorial—win or lose, his uniform clean or caked with mud—would carry her off the field.

They both would be aglow, the brother and his tiny pig-tailed sister dressed in his jersey number, and Dorial would remind himself to savor these moments with Eliza, remind himself of how far he'd come.

Chapter 5. A Second Chance

Everyone wanted him, seduced by his size, speed and those catcher's mitts that doubled as his hands.

Nick Saban liked to Skype with Dorial. Jim Tressel, then the Ohio State coach, called John Beckham about every third day, breathing heavily about his adopted son. Bob Stoops was a frequent visitor at Hillcrest High. And Jay Norvell, then Oklahoma's wide receivers coach, offered Dorial a scholarship when he was a freshman—the only time in his career Norvell, who hand-wrote letters to Dorial five times a week for two years, had ever offered a 15-year-old.

Dorial's statistics were staggering. Playing in 47 games in high school, he caught 300 passes for a national prep record of 6,353 yards—that's an oh-my-goodness average of 21.2 yards per catch—and 75 touchdowns. Even facing constant double- and triple-teams, Dorial made play after ruthless play. Rivals rated him as the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation regardless of position.

Green-Beckham acknowledges cheering Mizzou fans at a basketball game.

Dorial leaps for the catch against Oklahoma State at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium.(Tim Heitman/USA Today)

Dorial shunned the out-of-state schools. "I wanted to stay close to my family and that's why I chose Missouri," he said. "I wanted my mom and dad to be able to see me play. They mean everything to me."

Before home games at Missouri, the players amble through a crush of fans on their way to the stadium, a tradition known as the Tiger Walk. Most players are stoic and grim-faced, the game-day intensity rising within them. But not Dorial, who when he spotted his parents and sister in the crowd as a freshman would bolt through the mass of humanity to hug and hold them, the rare teenager who loved to be in the embrace of his mom and dad.

Dorial started slow in his first year at Missouri—he caught 28 passes for 395 yards as a freshman—but came on near the end of his sophomore season, highlighted by his 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Missouri's 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Even in defeat, you didn't have to be Pop Warner to discern that the best player on the field that night in Atlanta was DGB, which was what the Missouri fans in the Georgia Dome chanted each time he dashed into the end zone.

Green-Beckham acknowledges cheering Mizzou fans at a basketball game.

Dorial waves to the Missouri crowd before a basketball game against the Kansas Jayhawks. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Dorial returned to Columbia for the spring semester of 2014, to a campus where the issue of violence against women was in a rapid boil. In 2011 Tigers swimmer Sasha Menu Courey committed suicide after she alleged a Missouri football player sexually assaulted her. The school failed to launch an investigation, but after an ESPN report that aired in January 2014 raised questions about what the school knew about the alleged rape, the case was reopened. The school commissioned an independent law firm, Dowd Bennett in St. Louis, to conduct an investigation. The story gripped the campus.

Two months later a woman alleged to police that Dorial forced his way into her apartment and pushed another woman down some stairs. Even though no one other than the parties present will ever know what actually happened on that boozy night, Dorial immediately became toxic to Pinkel and the university.

On the morning of April 11, 2014, the independent report by Dowd was released; it categorically stated that the University of Missouri should have investigated the death of Menu Courey. At 2:30 that same afternoon Pinkel cut Dorial loose from the team. (Pinkel, through a Missouri spokesperson, declined to comment to B/R for this story.)

But Dorial didn't leave school. At the urging of his dad, he finished the semester. A month later, after Dorial completed his classes with a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale in the spring term, John helped his son pack his belongings and then drove Dorial back to their home in Springfield. Dorial eventually called the coach who offered him a scholarship back when he was a freshman in high school: Jay Norvell at Oklahoma.

"Coach, I'd love a second chance," Dorial said. He then explained how he needed a fresh start and needed to mature. The Sooners staff conducted an extensive background check—no red flags were raised—and then offered him a scholarship and a place on their roster.

For one season DGB, who sat out 2014 as a transfer, would become the top scout-team wide receiver in the land.

Chapter 6. 'There's Nothing Small about Dorial'

The subject is the history of receivers in the NFL. The coach is sitting behind his desk in the Texas Longhorns football offices.

"Look at who we think of as big receivers in the NFL," he said. "There was Terrell Owens, who was 6'1" and 217 pounds. There's Larry Fitzgerald, who is 6'3" and 221 pounds. There's Julio Jones, who is 6'2" and 220 pounds. And then...and then there is Dorial. He is almost 6'6" and 237 pounds, and he's as fast as any of them.

"Every football team in America wants a body like that on the roster. And let me tell you, there is nothing small about Dorial. The spotlight has been on him since he was a freshman in high school. Yes, he's made a few mistakes, but he is fundamentally a very, very good kid."

Jay Norvell, now the Longhorns' wide receivers coach, then talks—unprompted—for 10 minutes about how much he adores DGB.

Dorial arrived in Norman last July along with one of his older adopted brothers, Mikael Cooper-Falls. They lived in a small off-campus apartment, which Dorial can describe in exquisite detail because he was either there, in class or at the football complex about 98 percent of his time last summer and fall.

Beckham at the Combine

Dorial Green-Beckham runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

"We were both hermits," said Cooper-Falls, who played running back at Missouri State, where he graduated last year. "Dorial grew up. He realized what life is like when football is taken away from you, and that it definitely can be taken from you. Perspective is an important thing."

Every morning at 5:30 a.m. Dorial was in the weight room—he was given the option of lifting at 9 a.m. with the other players but chose instead to work out with the scout team and freshmen. Late mornings were devoted to classes and studying (he's carried a B-minus average at Oklahoma; his major is sociology), and then the afternoons were spent in team meetings and on the practice field, where he loved to talk a blue streak of trash to the starters, telling them he couldn't be covered. He playfully begged Stoops to arrange a game against an opposing team's scout team.

"Dorial fit in the moment he got to Oklahoma," said Sooners cornerback Julian Wilson, a team co-captain. "Guys were just kind of drawn to him. If he could have played, I think we could have won the Big 12."

For home games, Dorial would stand on the sidelines in a Sooners jersey. For away games, he would go to a local Buffalo Wild Wings to take in the action. Some weekends Dorial's girlfriend of three years, Samantha Bass, would drive seven hours from Columbia to visit. But mostly, he just studied and worked. He gained nearly 15 pounds of muscle.

Dorial considered returning to Norman for his senior year, but he and Samantha are expecting their first child in early July—the same time training camps open across the NFL—and he wants to provide for his offspring. "I'm just so excited to get to a city, work my tail off and let people know that I'm not the person I've often been portrayed to be in the media," Dorial said. "I just want a chance."

For the past three hours Dorial has been sharing his life story in the back of a restaurant outside of St. Louis. When he rises from his chair and walks to the front door, every eye in the place seems to turn to him as if pulled by gravity. He smiles out at the crowd. With Dorial, it always feels like he's on a stage.

He walks outside into the blue-sky afternoon. The distant horizons hold much promise for him—there is the draft, fatherhood, the millions he will be paid—but as he slides into his car and motors away, he's really excited about what's in his near future.

He simply cannot wait to have dinner with his mom and dad.