Edgren's Beard works hard, keeps his cool on the court
TOKYO — A whistle blew as three bodies collided on the sideline.
Matt Beard of Robert D. Edgren’s boys basketball team got the worst of it, tumbling out of bounds, haunch over heel. No foul was called. The ball went to the home team, St. Mary’s International.
Another player might have looked cross-eyed at the referee or given the other two players a little shove.
Not Beard, who bounded to his feet, not uttering a word, other than a “Here you are, sir,” as he handed the ball to the referee.
About a minute later Beard took another spill after tripping over a Titan’s leg.
Again, Beard kept cucumber-cool, shuffling quickly to his feet and straight to the free throw line to fire up a pair of foul shots.
“Just a part of the game,” Beard said with a shrug after his Eagles, of Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, fell 58-35 to the Titans, the two-time defending Far East Class AA champions. “That’s just how I try to play, all out, 110 percent.”
The soft-spoken Beard, a senior three-sport star, has a reputation in Japan as a lunch-bucket, blue-collar star who gets the job done without being flashy.
When the Eagles went 1-7 in the Japan Football League, Beard didn’t pile up significant numbers as a fullback. But he was a terror on defense, averaging 16.3 tackles per game and earning an All-Far East team selection. One observer described him as “11 men to the ball.”
“He’s the guy we always focused on at practice for games against Edgren,” said coach Tim Pujol of Yokota, the four-time JFL and three-time Rising Sun Bowl champion. “I constantly told my team that I was tired of No. 23 making tackles. He is always where the ball is.”
Beard has made steady improvement in basketball. With a relentless, straight-ahead style, he averages 12 points and nine rebounds per game for the Eagles (9-4).
A simple, unchanging approach works best for Beard, who also stars as a catcher for the Misawa Cougars youth baseball team.
“I play with the same mind-set, as hard as I can and do my best to win,” said the Greeley, Colo., native, the son of Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Beard of Misawa’s 35th Communications Squadron.
Beard credits his father, as well as his coaches from his sophomore year on, in developing his character and quiet nature.
“When I talk, it’s to help out a teammate or help pick up the team if we’re down or if we need points,” he said. “I try to let my actions speak louder than words. Win or lose, just do your best.”
Ironically, not doing his best with schoolwork might have helped him become a better athlete.
As a sophomore, Beard’s grades slipped enough that his father pulled him from Edgren’s jayvee basketball team.
“I argued with my father for hours about that,” Beard said. “It was an awakening. But it taught me a great deal about what comes first.” He now carries a 3.3 GPA.
Beard said he also learned a lot from the example set for him by Edgren’s upperclass athletes the past few years, such as three-sport stars Dean Graziadei, Mike Malone and Eddie Steerman.
Beard made an impression on them as well.
“Whenever I played alongside Matt, whether it was in football or baseball he was running the show,” said former Eagles football captain Malone.
“He wasn’t the most outspoken guy in the world, but his respect came from his performance and professionalism. He always got the job done. If I needed the defense to get fired up quick all I had to do was walk over to Matt and tell him to make it happen and within seconds the whole line went crazy with aggression.
“He was definitely one of the best athletes I’ve ever played with.”
Edgren’s third-year basketball coach John Mitchell is grateful for Beard’s presence.
“He’s our senior leader,” Mitchell said. “I don’t have him listed as our captain but he’s our senior leader on the court. He’s focused on how well the team is doing. He wants to win. He has the desire to win.
“He’s not a finesse player but he makes up for it in determination and strength. You’re not going to take the ball away from him on a rebound, just like in football, where nobody would make him fumble.”
Davis had considered Beard as a candidate for a Nov. 16 All-Star football game played between JFL players and a Japanese high school from Kamakura, which the JFL stars won 65-0.
At first, because of late notification to the school, Edgren was not going to send any players to the game. But when Beard and another team captain approached principal Michael Johnson and made what Johnson called a “careful, measured case,” Johnson relented and sent four players.
“It was the last chance for him to showcase his skills. He pled a very wonderful case. I agreed with him, so we let them go,” Johnson said.
“It would have been an injustice to him” had Beard not played in the All-Star game, Davis said. “He finished his career where he should have.”