Beasley views football camp as chance to inspire local youth

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Vic Beasley Jr. had mentors during his time growing up in Adairsville, but there wasn't a shining example of what it looks like to "make it."

Since being drafted into the NFL by the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, Beasley has become that source of encouragement, motivation and influence for children in Bartow County and beyond.

He doesn't take that responsibility lightly.

"It's always special, because where I come from — a small town — I had a role model [growing up] but it's different when somebody grows up in your community and makes it out," Beasley said Saturday. "These kids look up to me as a role model and inspiration for them, so I want to give them something that I didn't necessarily have when I grew up."

One of the ways Beasley gives back to community is through his annual youth football camp. The fourth edition took place with dozens of attendees Saturday at Adairsville Middle School.

In a change this time around, Beasley partnered with USA Football to provide a FUNdamentals clinic for those in upper elementary and middle school.

"I thought it went well," Beasley said. "Got a ton of volunteers and a ton of support from the community. We've got different people coming from parts of the state to support my event and bring the kids out. I definitely appreciate it."

As Beasley knows all too well, kids are always looking for successful individuals to emulate. While his presence often provides a boost to fans young and old, Beasley uses his camps as a chance to bring in other football greats from the past or present to uplift the participants.

Last year, Grady Jarrett, a Falcons defensive lineman and Clemson product just like Beasley, stayed for the duration and signed hundreds of autographs following the conclusion of the camp. This year, Ronnie Brown — a former running back in the NFL, at Auburn  and for the Cartersville High football team — made an appearance during the early portion of Saturday's event.

"It's cool, because a lot of people are attracted to our miracles," Beasley said. "Having Ronnie come out just added more value to my camp. People respect Ronnie, and they understand he was a great player during his time. They're attracted to the miracle; they're attracted to people who have been successful. It was very special to have him."

As for future guests, Beasley had mentioned following the 2018 camp that he would love to pair with former Canes quarterback Trevor Lawrence down the road.

Needless to say, after Lawrence led Beasley's alma mater to a national championship in January, Beasley is even more excited about the possibility of teaming up with the Cartersville legend.

"It's amazing," Beasley said of what Lawrence has accomplished at Clemson. "The community is special. With Trevor and me being from Bartow County, it's only going to help this community grow, as far as athletics. We're going to try to continue to be an inspiration.

"He's a great person, a great kid, and I hope to link up with him whenever he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL."

That's still a few years into the future, but for Beasley and the Falcons, 2019 will be an important year coming off a rough season. While Beasley was unable to regain the form that saw him named to the all-pro team in 2016, his struggles were certainly not the reason Atlanta failed to return to the postseason.

If anything, the fact that Beasley remained one of the team's only players healthy enough to feature in all 16 games showcases the main issue for the Falcons — injuries. With a new defensive coordinator taking over and the teams injured players back, including standouts Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones, Beasley believes Atlanta's defense will return to form this fall.

"Just go out and play extremely hard and play for one another," Beasley said of his expectations for the defensive unit. "I feel like when we play for one another, we're one of the best defenses in the league. We got our guys back. We got Keanu, we got Ricardo and we got Debo — three guys who were main pieces of our defense. Having them back will definitely take our defense to the level we want it to be."

Individually, Beasley will look to bounce back, as he enters the final year of his rookie deal with the Falcons. He will receive $12.8 million this season after Atlanta picked up the one-year option on his contract. After the season, Beasley will become an  unrestricted free agent — unless the Falcons re-sign him prior to that point.

Coming off a season in which he recorded 20 tackles and five sacks, the 6-foot-3, 246-pounder said he's still striving to be the best pass rusher in NFL history.

However, there's still something more important to him than the individual accolades.

"Honestly, my goal is just to play my heart out," Beasley said. "I've said in other interviews, God's always chasing Michael Strahan, the sack record of 22.5. That's still my goal. I want to be there some day.

"But more than anything, I want to help my team win ballgames."