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Bills receiver Cole Beasley used to proving critics wrong

Cole Beasley’s lifelong goal sits on 730 sprawling acres outside Junction, Texas.

It’s there that the Buffalo Bills’ new receiver recently had a new ranch built. The four-bedroom home – one room for his parents and one each for Cole, his brother Shayne and sister ShayeLynn – will be a gathering spot as the site of future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. The hunters in the family will stay busy chasing pigs, turkeys and at least four different kinds of deer – whitetail, axis, fallow and blackbuck.

“That’s where all the deer are at,” Beasley said recently in an interview with The Buffalo News. “That was the dream from the beginning, really. That's what I said I was going to do when I got my first decent contract. It’s just a really cool deal for our family. We’ve enjoyed it so much.”

Cole’s father, Mike, and mother, Danette, oversee the home and property.

“It’s a nice, big house that has a big, open living area,” Mike Beasley said. “It’s been a blessing for us. There's no other way we would have got it done. We tell Cole how much we appreciate it every day. All of our family enjoys that place.”

The ranch sits about 250 miles from Dallas, where Beasley played for the Cowboys. Prior to the NFL, he attended Southern Methodist University and Little Elm High School, so he’s never played a home football game outside America’s ninth-largest city. You might think that with such deep Texas roots, it would have been tough for Beasley to move to Buffalo.

As it turns out, it wasn't.

“I really haven’t given it that much thought until just now,” he said. “It doesn’t feel weird or anything.”

There was no sentimentality involved when Beasley signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Rather, it was strictly a business decision.

“Dallas was never really like a place I really, really wanted to go,” he said. “It more so just kind of worked out that way. I was an undrafted free agent, so we were just looking based on numbers and rosters and everything. I didn't really care. I just wanted a chance to play in the NFL for any team. So, it really didn't matter to me which one.”

If there is one word that summarizes Beasley’s career, it’s opportunity. It’s why he originally signed with Dallas, and why he left the Cowboys to come to the Bills.

“I feel like I'll finally get the opportunities that I've earned by coming here,” he said. “There were a lot of things that I wanted to accomplish individually that I couldn't accomplish with the Cowboys. Even if I don't accomplish them here, at least there is not that unknown out there of what it could have been if I went somewhere else. So that's kind of what this is for me. I'm excited to have that chance and that shot to prove that I'm worth what they gave me. I'm really excited about the challenge that lies ahead.”

The coach’s son

When given an opportunity, Beasley repeatedly has shown throughout his football career that he makes the most of it. That dates back to his freshman year at Little Elm.

In the summer after eighth grade, an article previewing the Lobos’ upcoming football season mentioned that Beasley would have an opportunity to win the starting quarterback job. To do it, he’d have to beat out a pair of seniors. In football-mad Texas, that was a big deal. Especially since his dad was the head coach.

“There were a lot of guys who were talking at me a little bit,” Beasley said. “I don't know, for some reason, at that age it didn't really bother me that much. In my head, I wasn't saying I was going to be the next varsity quarterback. I didn't know. I didn't think anything of it. I was just kind of in every day and enjoying being a kid, really.”

The whispers of nepotism extended beyond the football field.

“My dad wasn't even a basketball coach, but people would say that I was on the varsity basketball team as a freshman, too, because of my dad,” Cole said. “My dad had no part in that, so it was kind of easy to ignore. You always get some other people thinking there is favoritism when your dad is the head coach of the football team, so there were those people, but in my heart, I knew what it was. I did everything that I had to do to earn that spot.”

It helped that Beasley led Little Elm to the 3A playoffs as a freshman and sophomore. The Lobos moved up to 4A for his final two seasons, and went 8-2 during his senior year, but missed the playoffs.

Cole Beasley, left, talks to his father, head coach Mike Beasley during practice at the Little Elm High School football stadium on Oct. 8, 2007. (Provided photo)

“When you're the head coach, you're always going to ruffle feathers, so that didn't make a whole lot of difference,” Mike Beasley said. “We had a couple scrimmages and I gave the other guys more opportunity than I gave Cole. Then when he got in there, he did better than they did, so it was a pretty easy decision for me.

“Some of my other coaches knew there was going to be some backlash, but it wasn't really that much. … We went to the playoffs when he was a freshman and a sophomore. I don't think there was any question about it – he did a great job for us.”

Nevertheless, that feeling of always having to prove people wrong who thought he was only the starting quarterback because he was the coach’s son was instilled in Cole.

“A lot of it was sticking it to them, if you will,” he said. “I just always wanted to be in this position that I'm in now. I remember as a kid, just growing up playing pee wee, I would tell my dad I wanted to play in the NFL.”

Beasley got that chance with the Cowboys after a standout college career with the Mustangs. In 49 career games, he finished with 255 catches for 2,959 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had back-to-back 80-catch, 1,000-yard seasons as a junior and senior.

Still, Beasley wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine, and was passed over in all seven rounds of the 2012 draft. At 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, Beasley always is going to be one of the smallest players on an NFL field.

“Probably the biggest thing about him is his competitiveness,” Mike Beasley said. “He's a big competitor. He's always been small, and overcame that in everything – basketball, baseball, football, whatever. He's always been looked at as a little guy, but very good as a little guy. It's nothing new. That's been something that's part of his life. He's always trying to prove himself to people and that's one thing that fuels him. He wants to show he can do more than people think.”

How athletic is Cole Beasley? Just go to YouTube and punch in “Cole Beasley dunk.” Video after video shows him throwing down. Still, first impressions matter, and Beasley’s is hard to shake.

Former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett once said Beasley “looks like the paper boy.” To be clear, Garrett was talking about how Beasley is underappreciated, but the “paper boy” image sticks with people.

“It's just a stigma,” Beasley said. “It's always going to be there, because it's hard to change how people think, no matter what you do. … I don't know why. It doesn't really bother me anymore. I'm used to it.

“There are plenty of guys that look like me that are just as capable as the guys who look like absolute freaks. It's just when they're given the chance and having those opportunities. That's the hardest part about it, is getting those opportunities. Really, I don't even know if I would have them if there weren't some injuries in front of me early. So, a lot of it is luck when you're an undrafted guy and you look how I look. There are probably a lot of guys out there who are like me that haven't got the chance, but probably should have. It's unfair, but it's kind of part of it.”

A pivotal moment

Beasley’s opportunity was almost wasted. During training camp of his rookie year, he briefly left the Cowboys and considered retirement.

Even those closest to him don’t know exactly why Beasley thought about walking away from something he had pursued since he was 5 years old.

“I don't think we'll ever know for sure exactly what happened to make him do that,” Mike Beasley said. “We thought it might have been too tough, but he says, ‘No, dad, I'm going to make the team. That's not the problem.’ I don't know if we're ever really going to know and he doesn't like you to push him on it. I don't like to push him on it, either.”

As his son wrestled with his football future, Mike Beasley reminded him of conversations they had while Cole was growing up.

“When he was little bitty kid, he told us he was going to try to play in the NFL, so we couldn't understand why he was backing out now,” he said. “We just talked about what was best for him and what he had always wanted and that the time was now, and that if he didn't take this opportunity now, he would probably regret it later.”

After a recent offseason workout with the Bills, Beasley explained what was going through his head during that first training camp in Dallas.

“Part of it is was kind of what we just talked about. I didn't really feel like I was going to get a real chance to play like I wanted to,” he said. “The NFL wasn't how I expected it to be. When you're growing up, you think the best players play all the time, but there's a lot of other things that go into it because of the business aspect of it. It changes it a lot. For me, it just took the pureness out of football early. I kind of lost my love for the game because of that, because it wasn't real football to me.”

Talking with his father helped to put things into perspective.

“Even though it wasn't what I thought it was, they told me just stick with it and if I made it through that initial part and I finally got my opportunity, it would all come back,” Cole said. “Which it did. They were right.”

A new beginning

Beasley signed a three-year contract with the Bills that’s worth up to $29 million and included nearly $11 million in guaranteed money. With that type of contract, it’s clear Beasley will factor heavily into the Bills’ plans in 2019. A proven slot receiver should greatly benefit second-year quarterback Josh Allen.

“When you turn on the film for Cole, you see a guy that is quick. Quicker than fast, gets off the line and he does a great job with his routes of not selling them,” General Manager Brandon Beane said. “He doesn’t give away to the defender which way he’s going. He gets onto those option routes and he had of all the receivers, the quickest immediate, out-of-the-cut separation.”

The Bills also loved Beasley’s dependability, particularly on third down.

“That’s a quarterback’s best friend,” Beane said. “A guy that you know – if the route is supposed to be 6 yards, and option in or option out, you know sometimes receivers, some guys aren’t as technically sound. They’re going to run it at 7 or 8 or a guy is going to run it at 4. A guy is pressing them and they’re nervous that the quarterback isn’t going to see them, so they cut it short and it’s third and 5 and they run it 4 yards.

“You don’t see Cole Beasley doing that. That’s again a quarterback’s best friend because he knows if a guy is supposed to go five yards, I can trust that he’s going to be there when I plant my back foot and hit it.”

During his introductory news conference, Beasley mentioned that he chose the Bills over a return to the Cowboys and the Patriots, of all teams.

“The role that they had in mind for me, you know, I'd already been in that role before with the Cowboys,” he said. “It's not really something that I wanted to do. People will be like, ‘You're crazy, the Patriots win every year.’ Yes, winning is fun, but if you're not playing and you're on a winning team – I mean, I would have been playing, but not like I would want to be.”

As a former quarterback, Beasley’s used to having the ball in his hands every play.

“When it's not there, football is hard for me,” he said. “That's what I fell in love with. If I can't do that, then I feel like my significance in football has gone away. That was my idea in choosing the Bills over the Patriots and the Cowboys.”

Beasley’s best season came in 2016, when he led the Cowboys in targets (98), catches (75) and yards (833). He’s confident that, given the same number of targets, he can put up similar – or better – numbers in Buffalo.

Cole Beasley (11) of the Dallas Cowboys pulls in a touchdown pass ahead of Quinten Rollins (24) of the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on Oct. 8, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (Getty Images)

“You have to be to play wideout,” Beasley said of being supremely confident. “You can't go into a game thinking you're not going to win. You can't play football that way. You can't play any competitive sport without confidence. ... In my mind, nobody can cover me – it doesn't matter what corner is in front of me. You have to think that way as a wideout, or you've already lost, because I know the corner on the other end is thinking the same way.”

Beasley has never been shy about saying what’s on his mind, like the time in January he responded to a comment about the Cowboys firing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

"Honestly, the front office pushes who they want to get the ball to," he wrote then. "I haven’t been a huge priority in that regard. Maybe that will change but I’m not sure. More balls come my way in two-minute drill where nothing is planned."

Beasley also made waves last month when responding to a Twitter comment suggesting he might have regrets about coming to the Bills, saying “actually if we wanna compare from a players perspective Buffalo (expletives) on Dallas. Facilities for recovery and training are top notch!”

Shortly after that tweet went out, Beasley deleted his Twitter account.

“Cowboys fans aren't going to leave me alone for a while,” he said. “I don't know, there is just a lot of ignorant people out there who don't really know the inside of everything. If they don't agree with it, then they don't like it, which is ridiculous, but that's part of it.

"It's hard not to read it. ... It'll come back at some point, just not right now.”

Beasley hasn’t erased all his social media, though. He still has an Instagram page, which is mostly devoted to pictures of his family – wife,  Krystin, and their two sons, Ace and Everett.

The example set by his father has guided Beasley in his life.

“My dad, he's the guy. He did it all for me,” Cole said. “He taught me how to be a man and how to go about my business. Any time I was at my lowest points, he got me out of them. Watching him every day growing up, he makes it hard to be a dad now, really, because there is this big example that he set.”

That’s why, even though New Era Field is more than 1,400 miles from Cowboys Stadium, the Beasleys will be in attendance this fall.

“Knowing my family, it's not going to matter where I'm at,” Cole said. “They'll be around. They'll be here. I'll find a way to get them up here.”

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