Jeff Beverly came to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in 2015 to play tight end on the football team. So how did he become the leading scorer, the second leading rebounder, and the Roadrunners’ go-to guy in the paint on the basketball team?
How did Beverly, all 6-foot-6, 250 pounds of him, become a beast without a scholarship 15 games into his career at UTSA? And with his mother paying tuition, room, and board?
You’ve never seen a walk-on like him, an athlete on a zig-zag adventure between sports that took him to three colleges in three years.
“It’s been a long journey,” Beverly said. “But I got more to go. I got more to give.”
Beverly started playing basketball at age 4, starred on an AAU national championship team at 12, decided to try football at 19, hired a trainer, posted videos of himself catching passes, and caught the attention of football coaches from the school that recruited him to play basketball.
True story. The Roadrunners began recruiting Beverly when he was a junior at Clear Springs High in League City, Texas. UTSA’s interest grew when Beverly averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds as a senior. But the Roadrunners never offered a scholarship. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) did, as did other mid-major schools outside Texas.
Beverly chose to stay close to home. He started every game as a freshman for TAMU-CC, averaging 8.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, and made the Southland Commissioner’s honor roll. Then he decided TAMU-CC was too small. Beverly transferred to McLennan Community College in Waco, thinking he would attract offers from larger schools. After drawing more Division 1 offers, he decided to play football.
“I felt like basketball wasn’t getting me where I wanted to go,” he explained after a recent practice at UTSA.
And where did he want to go?
“To a bigger school,” Beverly said. “Like here.”
Football, he explained, wasn’t a whim, it was an old bargaining chip. He’d wanted to play football in high school, but his mother, Tonya Cooper, a nurse, would not let him – She had seen too many football players suffer concussions. She knew of one athlete – one of her son’s former AAU basketball teammates – who broke his neck on the gridiron. No, her son was not going to play football. But Beverly kept asking until he and his mother struck a deal.
“I said, ‘Son, if you can just wait until college, I’ll support you 100%,’” Cooper explained.
After two years of college, Beverly called in the promise, “so I had to support him.”
The challenge for Beverly: he’d never played organized football. Without any highlight film, how was he supposed to attract the attention of Division 1 football coaches? Simple. Beverly worked with a trainer to get in football shape and got someone to videotape the drills. It helped that Beverly had the large, muscled body of an NFL tight end. It helped that he was an established D1 athlete. It helped even more that he belonged to the tech-savvy generation of social media.
Beverly posted his workout videos on Twitter and YouTube and – voila – coaches began to notice.
UTSA, in fact, was looking for a tight end and invited him to walk on. At last, Beverly was at a big school. At last, he was getting to play football. And mom was footing the bill. How cool was that?
In the long afternoons of sweltering summer heat, not so much. Football, Beverly soon realized, was a lot harder than he thought. The grind of practice took a toll. He didn’t play. He watched and learned and suffered through the process.
“It was a different type of grind,” he said, “a different type of work ethic you need to have. My body wasn’t used to it. My body was always, always hurting. But it was a great experience. I found my love for basketball on the football field because it showed me what I really wanted to do.”
A pickup game solidified his thinking. One afternoon, Beverly and several football players played hoops. Beverly wowed with his muscle and skill. The guys said he needed to hoop for UTSA.
“You’d be the best player on the team,” they said.
As football was winding to a close, Beverly told his coach he wanted to return to basketball. And just like that, head coach Brooks Thompson and assistant Robert Guster had a gift. A player they had wanted in high school had come to them in an unimaginable way – for free.
Momma was happy to write the check. Her son had quit football and returned to the sport she loved.
“I’m paying for it and I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “I’m paying for a kid following his passion and making good grades. He’s my only child. I’m at every home game. I am very proud.”
Proud and relieved.
UTSA fired Thompson and Guster after the Roadrunners went 5-27 last season. A few weeks later, UTSA hired Steve Henson, and he welcomed Beverly.
“When we got here, he was in the gym all the time,” Henson said. “He’s very committed to being a good basketball player. His skill level is very high. He’s such a strong, powerful guy that he gives us a real nice mix of inside and outside. He’s carried us a lot of games on the offensive end. Jeff’s been terrific for us.”
Friday. Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving: It’s the sixth game of the season. Beverly looks across the Convocation Center court and sees Guster, now an assistant at Texas State University, about to coach against him. The game starts and Beverly erupts. In 24 minutes, he sinks both 3-point attempts, makes all 10 of his free throws, and adds three field goals for 22 points. He grabs nine rebounds.
UTSA wins, 63-48.
“I’ll remember that game for the rest of my life,” said Beverly, who has played better than he or anyone expected.
But not every game has gone as well. He struggled Thursday against Southern Miss, converting only two of 11 field goal attempts in a 77-59 loss on the road. Off the court, he suffered a shocking loss in June. Thompson, the coach who’d recruited and then embraced Beverly as a walk on, succumbed to double organ failure. He was 45.
When discussing his return to basketball, Beverly is quick to mention the chance Thompson and Guster provided. “I’ll always be thankful,” he said.
Henson is thankful for the walk-on he inherited. And Cooper is grateful her son has given up on football. The only thing missing is a scholarship. Will he get one?
“He’s got a huge role,” Henson said. “We throw him the ball a lot. We call his number. So I hope he’s having a good time with that.”
The coach laughed, as if he did not want to give away the obvious.
“You know,” Henson said, “we haven’t even talked about that.”
Beverly is averaging 14.2 points a game. Second is senior guard Nick Billingsley at 11.1, and he’s not playing due to grades. No one else is in double figures. Mom doesn’t mind paying for college at this time, but how long will she feel that way?
“Hopefully he’ll get a scholarship next year,” she said.
After three years of twists and turns, after a change of heart and a change of sport, after chasing a dream and exceeding expectations, it seems the only child of Tonya Cooper has earned it.