John Beck has spent a lifetime aiming for a target. As a baby in church, he threw his bottle up the pews to the startled surprise of his receivers. As a senior in high school, he threw a state-record 42 touchdown passes as Mesa Mountain View claimed the 1999 5A championship.
On his two-year Mormon mission in Lisbon, Portugal, he tossed a ball in solidarity. In the cracks of free time. Just to keep the memory of how it felt.
And in his freshman season at Brigham Young, he tossed as many interceptions as touchdowns, but never forgot the words that supported him like bone.
When you finally scale the mountain it will be worth the climb.
“I remember homecoming my freshman year, walking off the field and the fans were booing us,” said Beck, who will enjoy another homecoming of sorts when BYU plays Arizona today in Tucson.
“Never in my life did I think I’d walk off a field getting booed by my own fans. But when I think back on that and all the challenges I’ve faced, it’s been a worthwhile journey because of the things I’ve discovered about me.”
Chief among those: Beck can do a lot more than throw a football.
He can humbly survive and learn from a culture that is sometimes welcoming, sometimes indifferent and sometimes hostile to his beliefs.
He can thrive in a sports arena that offers the same reactions.
He can start a family — he married Barbara Burke in May, 2004 — and still earn academic and athletic honors.
And he can overcome what once was perceived as a lack of height and size to become one the nation’s premier passers.
Thrust into the starter’s role as a freshman because BYU had no veterans, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Beck had to feel his way back into the game he had not played for 2 1/2 years.
His apprenticeship ended abruptly in a loss to Southern California when he got blindsided by a linebacker and knocked out of the game with a concussion.
“It was a nice reminder that I wasn’t in high school any more,” the senior said.
Beck has had lots of those in three seasons in Provo.
“It’s been hard for him, getting beat up and being a part of a program that has been struggling,” BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman said. “It took a toll on his confidence. But give him credit. He stuck with it and he’s on the verge of doing what those great BYU quarterbacks of the past did.”
Beck already has most of them in his cross hairs. If he throws for at least 3,000 yards this season — he threw for 3,708 last year — he will move past Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco into second on BYU’s all-time yardage list.
Last season, as a junior, he ranked fifth nationally in passing yards per game at 309.1 while setting a single-game Mountain West Conference record with 517 yards and five touchdowns against Texas Christian.
Still, BYU has not posted a winning record in Beck’s three years, going 4-8, 5-6 and 6-6. There is much to accomplish.
“As I head into this year I know that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “The QB I am today, I could not have been, had those things not happened to me.
“It’s all been leading to this and now it’s time for me to finish it. I’m excited for the opportunity that lies ahead.”