Doug Robinson: Former Utah speedster Cal Beck finds new identity outside of football
"I was done," he says. "I couldn't do it anymore. My world was shattered. It was the beginning of a dark time."
He tried to continue his education, but he was often unable to attend class. That winter, Utah athletic director Chris Hill informed him that his scholarship was being pulled because he was missing class. Beck argued that he had been unable to go to class and that Ute officials were aware of this, but he knew it was futile and that Hill had made up his mind.
"Once I could no longer put people in the stands, the feeling was different," says Beck. "As I was walking out of that meeting, I saw (teammate Kevin) Dyson driving a brand new car. He was getting ready for the (NFL) draft. I thought, that should be me. I could've played pro football somewhere."
Whittingham does not dispute this. "He could've been an NFL prospect from my evaluation," says the coach. "(NFL scouts) like that great speed. He didn't have great size, but he was a very good player and very coachable."
During one good spell in 1998, Beck called a Ute coach to ask for another chance to play his senior season, but he was refused. Football was finished.
Beck was adrift without any of the old anchors in his life — no school, no job, no football — and he was living at home. He sunk into deep depression. Feeling suicidal, he checked into a hospital for five days.
"I was an athlete and had nothing to fall back on," he says. "I was lost. I hadn't finished a degree. I didn't know how to earn a living or even if I could. The hospital stay was a good experience. It widened my vision — you're not a former football player, you are a human being and you need to take care of yourself. If this chapter has to close to get healthy, so be it. I continued to see therapists and counselors. I learned who was there regardless of what you're doing and who you are and who was there because of what you're doing and who you are. There were those who truly supported Cal and those who supported the Rocket."
He describes himself as "incapacitated" by migraines for years. He was afraid to take a job for fear he wouldn't be able to meet expectations, but eventually mustered the courage to seek employment while continuing to deal with the headaches. During his playing days he discovered that he enjoyed working with youth and volunteered to do speaking engagements as a representative of the team. Through a former teammate, he got a job as a counselor at an adolescent treatment center for 18 months. A friend helped him find work as a tutor and substitute school teacher, but it was only temporary because he lacked a degree. He worked as a waiter for 2½ years at various restaurants and then as a valet parking attendant (on one awkward occasion, he parked Hill's car). Then he worked as a clerk at a pain clinic and later a urology clinic.
After years of doctors, tests and treatments, he has never been completely cured of the migraines, but in recent years the headaches have became more controllable and less frequent. "I remember telling my mom at one point, 'I feel different, more clearheaded,' " he says. "Hope turned into dreams again."
One of those dreams was to work with children again, so he returned to the University of Utah in 2004, at the age of 28. Three years later he graduated with a degree in sociology and criminology and two years later he completed a master's degree in elementary education. While still working on his master's degree, he marketed himself at various school districts. "I know you don't interview for a couple of months," he told them, "but I'm a male teacher and I want to teach first grade. I know that's rare. I'm giving you a chance to get the jump on the interview." Murray School District officials interviewed and hired him to teach at Parkside Elementary in 2008, at the age of 32. He has been there ever since, although this year he moved to third grade.
"I love it," he says.
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