From walk-on to potential starter, MSU's Drew Beesley in line for larger role

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Who would have thought, more than four years ago as Drew Beesley contemplated turning down a full scholarship for football to become a walk-on at the school he’d always wanted to play, that he’d be on the verge of being a starter for that team.

It seemed like a stretch back in February of 2016 as Beesley, a two-star prospect from Warren De La Salle, made a late-night decision to turn down scholarship offers from nearly every school from the Mid-American Conference and head to Michigan State as a walk-on.

Nothing was guaranteed for Beesley at that moment, other than the fact he was going to school where he’d always dreamed he would. So, the one-time Bowling Green commit got on the phone and let a handful of coaches know what he was planning to do on signing day.

Drew Beesley

“They hung up the phone and I guarantee you they all thought I was crazy,” Beesley said, “because I turned down a scholarship.”

As Michigan State begins its season at home on Saturday against Rutgers, there’s a better than decent chance Beesley will be on the field as one of Michigan State’s starting defensive ends, playing opposite senior Jacub Panasiuk.

That conclusion would seem to make Beesley’s original decision an easy one. But it was far from that.

“That was a very difficult decision for me and my family,” Beesley said. “I kind of just looked at it as if I was just a regular student, like if football wasn’t part of the equation, would I love going to school here? And for Michigan State that answer was an obvious yes. The only thing that I didn’t have was a scholarship.

“With all the other offers that I had, I didn’t really fall in love with the school and the program and everything that was going on there.”

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That was never in doubt at Michigan State, and after one season with the Spartans, Beesley landed the coveted scholarship anyway. Since then, it’s been a long road to significant playing time as Beesley has appeared in 26 career games with 20 tackles.

Last season was his most productive, playing in all 13 games while recording 14 tackles, including six for loss and 1½ sacks. Beesley’s half-sack came in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Wake Forest and he feels he’s ready for a bigger role now.

“I feel like I have a better understanding of the game,” Beesley said. “My mind is moving faster when I’m on the field, I’m not panicking, I’m able to play at high speed and not have to think too much because normally football players play good when they don’t have to think as much.”

Michigan State lost three of four starters along the defensive line with end Kenny Willekes as well as tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams graduating. The departure of Willekes, in particular, opened the door for Beesley, who is taking the lessons he learned from his former teammates into his final season with the Spartans.

“There’s no replacing Kenny — there will always be one Kenny Willekes,” Beesley said. “He always emphasized on hustling to the ball, getting to the ball. The same with Mike and Rae — they were just thumpers that were always trying to get the ball and being disruptive.”

How exactly defensive line coach Ron Burton and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton utilize the ends remains to be seen and there’s plenty of players pushing to get playing time there in addition to Beesley.

Junior Jack Camper is healthy and playing well while redshirt freshman Michael Fletcher comes with high expectations after missing a big chunk of his first season with an injury.

Even so, Beesley is ready to make the most of whatever chance he gets.

“Part of that is just taking advantage of every opportunity that you have and making the most of it and I plan this season to make the most of every opportunity that’s given to me,” Beesley said. “I expect a lot of great things from me as well as our defense this season because we’re coming.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau