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Newly drafted Beckham, Jr. has Windom ties

As a college track and field coach, Heather Van Norman has always made it a point to counsel others to dream big.

Her son, Odell Beckham Jr., didn’t need to be told. Heather remembers that when Odell was just 4 years old, he spent a considerable amount of time one day throwing a football in the air and catching it as it came down — while wearing a Denver Broncos hat and a puffy Oakland Raiders jacket. Finally, his mother called out to him. “Odell, what are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m practicing for Sunday,” her son responded.

The dream is now a reality. Beckham, son of former Windom Eagles track standout Heather Van Norman, is a professional football player. He’ll play his football on Sundays for the New York Giants, who selected him with the 12th pick of the first round of the 2014 National Football League draft on Thursday.

Beckham, a 6-foot, 198-pound wide receiver-kick returner, moved up draft boards in a hurry. When he chose to make himself eligible for the draft following a junior season at LSU in which he caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging more than 26 yards per kick return, he was originally projected as a low first-round or high second-round selection. But he made such a positive impression on NFL teams that some analysts projected him to go as early as 10th to the Detroit Lions.

“I cried when it was announced,” said Heather, who is in her fourth season as women’s track and field and cross country coach at Nicholls State University. “I think the only word that comes to my mind is ‘blessed.’ And it’s so surreal. It’s like, ‘Is this really going on?’”

Van Norman will forever be remembered among southwest Minnesota sports fans. From 1985 through 1988 as a member of the Windom track team, she won state Class 1A championships in the 100, 200 and 400-meter sprint events, setting state records along the way. When NFL teams considered Odell, they were immediately impressed with his genes (his father is former LSU football player Odell Beckham), but they soon became enamored with much more than that. Beckham’s production at LSU, his intelligence, his propensity for hard work, the realization that he was more than just a football player with great speed (he runs the 40 in 4.43 seconds).

The Giants describe Beckham as “dynamic” and believe he can help fix what was a lackluster offense in 2013. Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated says of the pick, “This is a major win for a team in need of new weapons.”

Van Norman said it may have helped her son to begin at a projected draft position lower than he was taken. “I always told him that it’s good to be the quiet storm sometimes. And he’s always played that role. It’s always hard to start from the top, because that’s hard to sustain sometimes.”

Odell, she said, developed athletically like his mother. Muscle mass came late. Draft experts seemed to appreciate his exceptional route-running and his big hands. “I think what really caught their eye were his mannerisms. And he really had a great combine.”

It probably didn’t hurt at all that Beckham had been to a few Manning summer camps where he caught passes from NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. This fall, he’ll be catching more passes from Eli.

“He’s so excited. This is it. It’s everything he’s dreamed about since he was a little kid,” Van Norman said. “I’m elated. I feel blessed. I feel relieved. It’s been a journey, a chapter he can close now in his life and open up the next chapter. I think the greatest thing is, he’s discovered and learned a lot about himself.

“I’ve noticed the maturity level has increased. He makes tremendous eye contact when he talks to people … I think it’s a good self-discovery.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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