Beatty’s football journey started at ETSU, continues in the NFL

Former ETSU receiver Chris Beatty (9) and his teammates listen to instructions from ETSU coach Mike Cavan.

By Trey Williams

Los Angeles Chargers receivers coach Chris Beatty doesn’t want to pick a Super Bowl winner.

But it appears obvious the former East Tennessee State receiver wouldn’t pick against quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs.

“It should be a great game,” Beatty said Sunday while watching the flag football Pro Bowl with his 13-year-old son Aaron. “Mahomes is as good as there is. And Philly has a great defense. It should be a great matchup. The Eagles receivers against the young rookies in the secondary for KC is the key matchup to watch.”

The Chargers, led by 6-foot-6, 25-year-old quarterback Justin Herbert and receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, aren’t far from Super Bowl caliber. They went 10-7 during the regular season and blew a big lead in the playoffs to Jacksonville. They took the Chiefs to the brink in a pair of three-point losses.

“We lost the first one on a Thursday night and then at our place, we were up four and Mahomes took them down and scored a touchdown with under 30 seconds and they beat us by a field goal,” Beattly said. “It’s such a small margin for error in that league. It’s hard. So every game is a street fight.

“But obviously, I think if we can make a move or two, I think we’ve got a chance to be there at the end. You know, it’s kind of hard to get past that Mahomes guy. He’s pretty good. The last two years he’s beat us on overtime drives or the last drive of the game. He’s a tough out. But we’ve got a good quarterback, and when you’ve got a good quarterback you give yourself a chance.”

And the quarterback has good receivers.

“I’m fortunate. I’ve got two $20-million receivers in my room with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen,” Beatty said. “They make it easier for you. If those guys are healthy for the whole year, I think maybe we’re in a different spot this year. They missed a lot of games this year and Justin still was second in the league in passing. That shows you how good he is. But if those guys can stay healthy, I think we’ve got a chance to maybe be playing a little bit further.”

Beatty finished his career at East Tennessee State in 1994 atop the Buccaneers’ receiving yardage list and second in career receptions. Not bad for a guy whose other exciting offers – James Madison and Youngstown State – were as a defensive back.

Youngstown State won national titles in 1991, ‘93, ‘94 and ‘97 under Jim Tressel and finished runner up in ‘92 and ‘99. JMU won titles in 2004 and ‘14 and has reached the national championship game two other times.

But Beatty wanted to play receiver and liked the Mini-Dome. And his mother liked ETSU coach Don Riley, who was replaced by Mike Cavan following Beatty’s freshman season.

“I liked Coach Riley,” Beatty said. “I mean, obviously, we didn’t win enough, but he was a good guy. It seemed like he treated everybody well. … He was one of the reasons why we came, because my mom liked him on the visit.”

John Bowles, who became Science Hill’s head coach in 1999, was the ETSU assistant recruiting Beatty.

The Buccaneers had a plethora of talented receivers and defensive backs in the 1990s. Pro Bowler Donnie Abraham and another future NFL player, Maurice Kelly, were among the defensive backs and B.J. Adigun, Jeff Johnson and Scotty Dykes were teammates with Beatty.

“Donnie, me and Jeff Horton were all in the same class,” Beatty said. “Mo Kelly and Malachi Jamison were ahead of us. Dainon Sydney came after our sophomore year. He was there the last two years. There was a lot of talent on those teams.”

The Bucs went 6-5 Beatty’s senior season in ‘94, the program’s first winning season in eight years.

“We kind of got over the hump and beat Western Carolina in the last game to go 6-5,” Beatty said. “And then Coach, Cavan, obviously, I think two years later, is when they had the breakthrough and went to the playoffs.”

Beatty, who played at Chantilly High School in Virginia, had a breakout game as a freshman in a 21-14 loss to Appalachian State in Johnson City.

“I had eight catches for 124 (yards),” he said. “That was like my first big game and we had a chance to beat ‘em. We went for however long without beating App State (1982-96), you know, for forever, but we had a chance to beat ‘em and didn’t. That was disappointing loss, but one of my first big games.”

Cavan often mentioned being high on Beatty. He also noted Beatty’s dedication in the weight room. His slot-receiver size didn’t keep him from bench-pressing 225 pounds 19 times.

Beatty played with quarterbacks Randy Meredith, Mark Williams and Gabe Berry for two-plus seasons. Freshman Greg Ryan entered the picture during his junior season, and Ryan was happy to have Beatty.

“In my four years at ETSU I was lucky to play with several great wide receivers and Chris Beatty was definitely one of them,” Ryan said. “Chris was a very reliable wide receiver. He always had great hands. From a quarterback standpoint, you always knew he was going to be exactly where you expected him to be. Chris played in the slot, so he was asked to play with physicality and make those tough, contested catches over the middle. And no one excelled more at doing whatever was asked of him.”

Beatty, of course, remembered not doing what was asked of him by offensive coordinator Doug Martin early in his freshman season. You ran routes full speed until the whistle, whether you were a primary target or not –at least, you were supposed to.

“Coach Martin was like, ‘You’ve gotta run to clear out the vertical on the post or you’re gonna get somebody killed,’” Beatty said. “And coming out of high school you’re like, ‘If the ball ain’t coming to me, I’m not really running.’ You don’t know how all that stuff works together because the ball was always coming to us.

“So I remember I didn’t run as hard as I could and got Scotty Dykes blown up. And he ended up like getting like a hairline fracture in his elbow or something like that. I’ll never forget that one because Scotty was like, one of my best friends, and I got him blown up because I wasn’t running as hard as I could on the outside.

“I still use that one as an example to this day when I’m talking to my guys, like, ‘Hey, if you’ve got a dummy route’ – We always call ‘em the wooden duck; you’re the decoy – ‘you can’t get your partner’s blown up.’”

Dykes, the head coach at Cocke County, chuckles recalling the play.

“Chris is one of my best friends to this day, even though he did that to me on the field,” Dykes said. “We remain tight to this day. Chris is a great person. He was one of the hardest workers I ever played with. He was one of the first people I remember being just obsessed with football, learning the details and getting more ingrained in everything about it. There were notes and notes and notes of details he would write down about stuff.

“So him being an NFL coach is definitely no surprise to me. Everywhere he’s been at in college he was one of the best recruiters in the country. And he remains the same type of person he was in college. He’s doing great things.”

Beatty, who went on to play in the Canadian Football League with the Baltimore Stallions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, has coached at Wisconsin, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Virginia, among other stops.

He won a state championship at Landstown High School (Virginia Beach) with Percy Harvin in 2004. Harvin returned a kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown when Seattle routed Denver in the Super Bowl in 2014.

Kelly, Beatty’s former ETSU teammate, still works for the Seahawks. Beatty chuckled while remembering Kelly calling him when Seattle was making a trade for Harvin, who would’ve likely fit in well with the 1970s Oakland Raiders.

“Mo had called me right as they had made the trade and was like, ‘Hey, tell me about about Percy,’” Beatty said. “So, you know, I told him, and he said, ‘No, no, no, tell me about Percy – like, the person, not the player.’ And we had a long talk about Percy, because there’s a lot of legendary stories about him and some of the things … during that Super Bowl weekend and kind of those things. I won’t get into that.

After his playing career, Beatty went on to coach at the college and pro level. He is currently the wide receiver coach for the Los Angeles Chargers.

“But Mo called me back afterwards and he said, ‘You’re right about all of it, about how good he was and about how you’ve got to be able to manage him.’”

Beatty grew up near Washington, D.C. in Centreville, Virginia. He was thrilled when Doug Williams lit up the Denver Broncos in the 1988 Super Bowl.

“I was a big Doug Williams fan,” Beatty said. “And so when he threw the five touchdowns in the second quarter and they beat the Broncos – that’s a great memory. … I actually ran into Doug Williams last year at the quarterback summit in LA, and we talked for a while about that Super Bowl.

“When I was a little kid I used to try to sneak up there and watch practice at the old Redskins Park, you know, back in the day. Those are some good childhood memories. They’re about to blow up the old RFK Stadium. You look at it now and it’s kind of – at least the last time I was in there – it was kind of a dump. But back then it was like the hardest place to play in the NFL.”

The 1990s Southern Conference had talented players and notable coaches. Marshall’s Jim Donnan went to Georgia. Georgia Southern’s Paul Johnson coached at Navy and Georgia Tech. Furman’s Bobby Johnson went to Vanderbilt. Cavan went to SMU.

“And I think about all the receivers that played in the Southern Conference back at that time with Terrell Owens and Randy Moss,” Beatty said. “There was David Patten. I know he’s passed. Troy Brown. There was a lot of great receivers playing back in Southern Conference at that time that you could compare yourself to.

“It was kind of like a golden age of that league with all the great coaches that were coaching at that time. It was just a different era in football is, you know, when a lot of coaches would go to schools in Southern Conference to give themselves a chance to be the head coach in the ACC or the SEC schools.”

Beatty, whose wife Kris is a Sullivan South graduate, interviewed to be ETSU’s head coach when they rebooted the program in 2015. He initially interviewed with Phil Fulmer and later with ETSU president Brian Noland and the search committee. He still wants to eventually be a head coach.

“Chris having great success in the coaching profession is no surprise to me,” Ryan said. “As a player he was always a team leader both on and off the field and a highly competitive person. Throw in the fact that his knowledge and love for the game was already in place as a player, and that usually makes for a great coach.

“Chris was a great player. He is a very successful coach. But first and foremost, Chris is a fantastic person. Knowing how competitive Chris is, I’m sure he relishes the opportunity to be the head coach someday somewhere. I’m always wishing him luck. He’s an easy dude to root for.”


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