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Back from the abyss: Beard fighting for roster spot

John Marshall Associated Press

DENVER — Santonio Beard takes a handoff and looks for a hole behind linemen who have little chance of making the team. He finishes the drill, then stands on the sideline and watches the four other running backs ahead of him on Denver’s depth chart.

It’s not what Beard had in mind when he left Alabama after his junior year, but he’s not complaining. A year after making a decision that jeopardized his career, sending him into a deep depression, Beard will take any chance he can get.

“It’s a blessing,” said Beard, one of the biggest stars in Tennessee schoolboy history and later at Alabama. “I thank the Broncos for giving me the opportunity and now I’m just going to make the best of it. “

Just before the 2003 NFL draft, Beard opted to leave Alabama, seeing a weak class of running backs and fearing new coach Mike Price would want to feature more of the passing game.

Less than a month before the NFL combine, Beard made a choice that would change his career course and alter his outlook on life: He smoked marijuana while working out with a friend in Atlanta.

Beard was told he wouldn’t be tested at the combine, but quickly found out that wasn’t true. Even so, he figured he’d at least get picked in one of the later rounds.

Wrong.

Between the marijuana and a DUI arrest in 2001, no team was willing to take a chance with Beard. So instead of celebrating with his family, Beard sat through all 262 picks without hearing his name.

When it was over, he went to a back room and started crying. Beard later spent hours talking to his uncle, Ed Brown, a former Army officer with two tours of duty during the first Gulf War.

“He and I spent some time man to man together for about an hour or two, and let me put it this way: It’ll probably be a time in my life I’ll never forget, including my time in the war zone,” Brown said.

It was even more difficult on Beard.

Projected for stardom since high school, Beard always figured he’d become a pro football player. Having his life’s dreams wiped out in one day hit him like a knee to the stomach. Beard spiraled into a deep depression, shutting out those close to him.

Everywhere he went — restaurants, movies, walking down the street — he was asked what happened or told that he blew his chance. It became too much to handle, so Beard considered what had once been unthinkable: taking his own life.

“I’m thinking to myself that I know I can be a pro player, then bam! I don’t make it,” Beard said. “So I’m just sitting at home thinking ‘What am I going to do? Is my life over? Should I do it?’ It was just a thought that came to my mind, but I never took anything real serious. Things go through your mind and that’s one of the things that went through my mind.”

Later, another idea popped into Beard’s head: move to Dallas with Brown. Uncle Ed was always the person who kept Beard grounded and he figured staying with him would be the best way to get his life in order.

It wasn’t easy.

Brown set out to put some discipline back in his nephew’s life. He made Beard get up early, leave for appointments on time and cut back on the nights out with friends. It was a drastic change from the lifestyle that Beard was used to, but one that had to be made.

Beard’s decision a year ago put him in a difficult spot, but he says he wouldn’t change anything.

“When I look back at it all, it was the best thing that could have happened to me because my life was going so fast,” Beard said. “It kind of made me realize that I had to stay on the straight and narrow and that nothing was going to be given to you. You’re going to have to work hard for it.

“It changed my whole outlook on life.”

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