DeKALB – Long after the early morning practice wrapped for the Northern Illinois football team, about a half-dozen players remained at Huskie Stadium on Thursday morning.
Among them was Chad Beebe, playing toss at midfield with fellow receiver Christian Blake.
Suffering a knee injury in July 2016 that caused him to miss what would have been his senior year, the receiver and punt returner is back on the field for the Huskies.
“This offseason I’ve trained like I never had before,” Beebe said. “And I knew I had to, to get back into the shape I wanted to be in – not just where I was, but better than I was.”
Beebe, a 5-foot, 10-inch senior from Aurora Christian, has 36 catches for 513 yards and two scores in his career with the Huskies. In 2015, he was second on the team with 14.8 yards a reception, and he was the team’s top punt returner in both 2014 and 2015. In the 2014 MAC championship game, Beebe broke his arm but still played in 13 games the next season.
Coach Rod Carey said what Beebe brings to the team goes far beyond stats.
“He’s a great route-runner who understands how teams should work, how his role should work,” Carey said. “Plus, he takes punts too, so he’s pretty valuable.”
Heading into the 2016 season, Beebe had very high hopes. But in a July drill, he landed awkwardly on a teammate. A tendon in his right leg popped, and he suffered some knee damage as well.
He said his teammates told him they could hear the pop.
That led to him missing the season. He said it was a very difficult experience.
“I’m not going to lie – it’s been tough, obviously,” Beebe said. “I had the mindset last year that I was going into my last year and I’ve got to put out my very best. Coming down on my knee on somebody’s foot, popping back and out, hearing it pop, I knew it was bad right away. From then on, right away, I kind of hit a slump; it’s tough, obviously. This is what I love to do, and any time you’re injured, you know it’s going to be a long process. You get down on yourself a little bit.”
Helping to pick him up, he said, was his father, Don, and wife, Emily.
“I’m a man of faith, and the fact I could rely on my dad, my family, my wife and the Lord was huge,” Beebe said. “I had a lot to fall back on throughout the process.”
In fact, Beebe said his father was a big part of his rehab. Don Beebe played receiver for eight years in the NFL for the Bills, Panthers and Packers. He played in six Super Bowls.
After working with trainers Matt Kuehl and Ben Kastler early after the injury, Beebe said he worked with his father to help with speed and NIU’s director of sports performance, Brad Ohrt, for strength training.
“That was the explosive training I was looking for as far as speed and agility,” Beebe said of training with his dad. “Obviously, he did a great job. He understands what he’s doing for sure, and just the fact he’s my dad means we get bonding time too, which is great. I love that. He’s my best friend.”
The end result of the training is Beebe being well-conditioned, Carey said.
“He’s in better shape right now than his entire life,” Carey said. “He really put himself in a position to have a great year.”
First-year receiver coach Steve Crutchley, who came on board in March, said he also has noticed Beebe’s drive and work ethic.
“He’s got a motor. When he’s out there’s he’s going to go full speed,” Crutchley said. “If you didn’t know he had an injury, you wouldn’t have suspected anything.”
Being new to the staff, Crutchley – who was a high school coach last year and has had stints as an assistant at Western Illinois, Southern Illinois and St. Cloud State – said players such as Beebe are invaluable.
“He’s going to work hard, and he’s easy to coach,” Crutchley said. “He’s what you want in a guy from that standpoint. And he’s well-respected in the room. He’s been a great help to me, being new, and making sure the guys are on the same page.”
As the season gets closer to starting – the Huskies’ first game is at home Sept. 1 against Boston College – Beebe said the one thing on his mind is helping his teammates win another MAC championship, something the Huskies last did in 2014.
“I love this game, and I’m just trying to give it all I can,” Beebe said. “Football doesn’t owe me anything. I’m just trying to give it my best every single day. My expectation this year is to come out and make a name for myself and overall just win another championship. I want another ring on my finger.”