DeCock

Ex-Pack QB finds his way

Staff WriterSeptember 24, 2009 

For many N.C. State fans, the lasting memory of Harrison Beck may be his final start last fall, against South Florida, in what may have been the darkest moment of the team's season.

With Russell Wilson hurt, Beck threw three interceptions and nearly a fourth when he tried to squeeze the ball between three South Florida defenders in the end zone on fourth down from the 2-yard-line.

The pass wasn't picked off, but 16 of Beck's passes were during his two-season Wolfpack career. That play summed up Beck's time at State: Always looking to make the big play, often relying too heavily on the (considerable) strength of his arm.

There was never any questioning Beck's talent, but he never seemed to find a way to make the most of it for the Wolfpack after he transferred from Nebraska.

The same cannot be said of Beck this fall. Given an unexpected opportunity to play a fifth season, Beck is among the Division II statistical leaders at North Alabama, where Terry Bowden returned to coaching this season after a decade on television.

"Obviously, it was a difficult couple years at N.C. State," Beck said. "Whatever happened, happened. I've always felt that I've been able to play the quarterback position at high level. Now it's probably a combination of everything, but the truth is I've got receivers here who understand who I am as a quarterback. It works out better."

Beck is one of 26 Division I-A transfers playing for the 4-0 Lions -- when Florida State coach Bobby Bowden visited his son this summer, he was shocked at the assembled talent: "I wouldn't want to play them," the elder Bowden said -- but Bowden called Beck the most important of them all.

Beck is 94-for-155 for 1,184 yards, the seventh-most in Division II, and he has thrown twice as many touchdowns (six) as interceptions (three).

But make no mistake. It's the same Harrison Beck.

"The farther he can throw it, the more he likes it," Bowden said. "He's been fun to coach. I call him my Jim McMahon. He marches to the beat of a different drummer."

In many ways, Beck's N.C. State career was emblematic of the program's time in transition, from the waning years of the Amato Era to the first stumbling steps forward under Tom O'Brien.

Beck was at State at a time when the program had lost its way, when stability was far more valuable than a big arm. Beck's talents and State's needs never seemed to mesh.

At North Alabama, Beck is a perfect fit.

The Division II defensive backs are a half-step slower, giving Beck's aggressive throws a better chance of find their way to the multiple receivers of North Alabama's spread offense.

He also may be surrounded by as much, if not more, receiving talent than he was with the Wolfpack, which also doesn't hurt. Among his targets: Florida State transfer Preston Parker and North Carolina transfer Kenton Thornton. (Former UNC cornerback Richie Rich is at UNA as well.)

"Coach Bowden and I understand each other," Beck said. "Sometimes he calls plays and says, 'We want to throw deep on this one so just take the shot, go do it.' That's a little different than what I've ever had. It was always, 'Don't lose the game,' 'Don't throw that,' 'Check it down to the fullback, throw it short, take that stuff.'

"Coach Bowden stresses touchdowns before checkdowns, not checkdowns then touchdowns. He lets me be who I am. He understands who I am as a quarterback."

Then again, Beck was exactly what Bowden wanted when he took over at North Alabama. After Bowden briefly pursued North Carolina's Cameron Sexton, Amato told him about Beck.

Before Bowden called, he was looking for a job as a graduate assistant coach, State degree in hand. After Bowden called, he was looking through North Alabama's playbook.

It turned out to be the best move the well-traveled Beck ever made.

"I tell 'em all the time here," Beck said, "I wish I could have come to dang North Alabama right out of high school."

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8947

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