Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, October 1, 2015
When Kirk Ferentz announced C.J. Beathard would be the Iowa Hawkeyes? starting quarterback in 2015, the move created more questions than answers. But in the months since that announcement, Beathard and the Hawkeyes have provided plenty of answers.
Undefeated at 4-0, a rolling Iowa team opens the Big Ten portion of the season Saturday at Wisconsin. However, this season may have really started with a decision in December 2014 after Iowa?s 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
In that game, Iowa starting QB Jake Rudock was replaced by Beathard, a sophomore who finished the game 13-of-23 for 145 yards with two TD passes. Home for Iowa?s winter break after the bowl game, Beathard was out to dinner with his brother and girlfriend when his phone rang.
It was Ferentz, and he had some big news.
?He said that he and the other coaches had spent some time watching film, and that they made a decision that I was going to be the starting quarterback heading into the next season,? Beathard recalled. ?At the time he still hadn?t told Jake, so I was a bit shocked, but excited at the same time.?
Casey Jarrett Beathard, or C.J. for short, arrived at Iowa in 2012 sporting a look that one would see on the cover of a surfing magazine. His long, blond flowing hair earned him the nickname ?Sunshine,? after the character in the hit football movie Remember the Titans. The son of well-known country music songwriter Casey Beathard, C.J was born and raised in Franklin, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville.
If he comes off as an extremely competitive individual, it?s because he grew up in a family with two younger brothers who would have cereal eating contests just to prove who was faster. With brothers, nothing is given to you. ?I have always been as competitive as they get,? Beathard said.
Beathard would go on to star at quarterback for Battle Ground Academy, and his shining moment came in his senior year against high school football powerhouse, Montgomery Bell Academy.
?It was the biggest game of our season up to that point,? Battle Ground football coach Roc Batten said. ?Going into that game, we knew C.J. was a very good quarterback, but you never know just how good a kid is until they get into those real pressure moments.?
Beathard completed 17 of 18 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-17 win. His one incompletion came on a throw tipped by Jashon Robertson, now a starting lineman at Tennessee.
?That was one of those moments when you watch a kid play and you can?t help but to say ?Wow?,? Barren said. ?None of us had ever seen something like that at that level.
?When you?d watch C.J. play, you could see that he has all the intangibles to be a successful college quarterback. But it was also beyond impressive how he was able to demand respect in the huddle and with his team.
?I?ve never coached such a true leader?
Beathard?s route to Iowa City was far from traditional. Eager to play for an SEC school, he waited patiently before finally landing an offer to play for Houston Nutt at Ole Miss.
?I was so pumped,? Beathard said. But Nutt was fired after the 2011 season and replaced by Hugh Freeze. After a meeting with the new coaching staff, Beathard recalls that his heart was no longer in signing with the Rebels.
?So,? said the dynamic, dual-threat quarterback, ?I opened things up.?
That led Beathard to Iowa, a school that ran a similar offensive system to his high school team. After visiting Iowa City, he developed an immediate love for the coaches, players and the campus. He recalled praying about it with his family and gaining a ?feeling deep in his heart? that Iowa was the right choice.
The Hawkeyes were coming off a 7-6 season and starting quarterback James Vandenberg was entering senior season, opening the door for Beathard to compete for a starting job following his true freshman year.
After redshirting in his freshman season, Beathard eyed the starting job in 2013 before sophomore Jake Rudock won the job. Still, as a redshirt freshman, Beathard completed nine passes for 179 yards and one touchdown, in addition to rushing for 49 yards and two more scores.
As a sophomore, Beathard played in nine games, including one start in a 24-10 road win at Purdue. While Rudock was known for managing the game, Beathard built a reputation with his ability to stretch the field with his big arm.
Since 2005, Iowa has only had one quarterback throw for more than 3,000 yards and average more than eight yards-per-attempt - Ricky Stanzi in 2010. Through four games this season, Beathard is averaging nearly nine (8.75) yards-per-attempt and has already thrown for 962 yards, which is a rare sight in Iowa City.
?In my mind, I felt like I was the better athlete and I could do more things," Beathard told reporters back in April when asked about Rudock?s decision to leave Iowa. ?I think the coaches see that, too. They were just waiting to prepare me and be a little more ready."
Since that day in December, Rudock transferred to Michigan with one year of eligibility left with Ferentz?s blessing. ?It's like every player in our program, any coach wants what's best for the individual," Ferentz said.
When players reported back to campus and practice began in preparation of the 2015 season, the Hawkeyes' quarterback had a new look about him. Beathard cut his hair and donated it to the Wigs for Kids Foundation, a non-profit organization relying solely on donations to make custom hair replacement systems for sick children.
?There were several people who suggested growing it long enough to give to charity, and when I heard that idea, it was just something that I wanted to do,? Beathard said. ?Growing up and going to private school, I was forced to cut my hair, so it never got that long. But this is the shortest it?s ever been, right now.?
Through four games this season, the new look is working just fine. The Hawkeyes are off to their first 4-0 start since the 2009 season when the program finished 11-2 and finished in the top 10.
And there is a buzz around this team that Iowa fans hadn't seen in a long time.
In the Hawkeye?s Week 1 win over Illinois State, Iowa led 14-0 and called for a fake field goal in the second quarter. It came up short, but the Iowa fans made it a point to applaud the play call.
?I?m not sure when the last time we?ve done something like that,? Beathard said after that game. ?And I just think the fans were excited to see it.
?It just seems that this year; we?ve really put a lot of emphasis on changing the culture here at Iowa. We didn?t want to have the same type of season we did last year, so we knew we had to change some things up this season. It?s up to me and our seniors to make sure that happens and to set the right example for the other guys.?
Ferentz has praised his junior quarterback for that kind of leadership this season, just like Batten did during his days at Battle Ground Prep, and both coaches call Beathard a ?true leader.?
While Beathard may not be the biggest quarterback in the conference or the flashiest, the Hawkeyes' junior signal caller has proven other intangibles.
?For a guy who has only started four games, he hasn?t played that much, he?s showing outstanding poise,? Ferentz said last week. ?I think his grasp, what it is, to be a starting quarterback at a major school; I think he's really taking that responsibility to heart.
?He has a great work ethic and he's done a great job leading our team.?
For now, Beathard wants to keep winning, and this Saturday?s game against the Badgers in Madison could go a long way in deciding the division champion. With each win comes growing expectations from the Hawkeye faithful.
?The key is to not listen to all of that outside noise because ultimately, only our guys know what?s going on with our team,? Beathard said. ?For me, my goal is to make sure I continue to get better each and every week. If I do that, and if we do that as a team, everything else will take care of itself.
Now that?s the attitude that Batten and Ferentz spoke about when describing the Hawkeyes? star quarterback. It?s an upbeat attitude, and one of blossoming leader.