The sun is setting over the practice field at Rockwood Summit High School, but one player remains.
Dripping sweat, he squats across from a one-man blocking sled. Without warning, he violently collides with his imaginary opponent, driving it downfield. When it's all said and done, he may push the sled a total of 300 yards—an exhausting workout in and of itself. It looks like a punishment, but the player is inflicting this pain upon himself. And he does it after every single practice.
This is just one of the many stories that define who Eric Beisel is as a football player and as a person. Some people are born to be great football players, gifted with the genetics for freakish athleticism. Others—like Beisel—are forged by thousands of hours of blood, sweat and sacrifice.
"A lot of people call it extra work, but deep down inside, I know it's necessary work," Beisel says. "It's necessary for the goals that I want to achieve. I don't want to be mediocre, I don't want to be average. I don't want to meet the status quo. Doing that necessary work after practice, that has driven my game to the next level. Even at Mizzou, I was always the last person off the field. Every single practice."
That attitude helped make Beisel a unanimous team captain for the Tigers last season—a feat that's all the more impressive when you consider the fact he wasn't a full-time starter for the team. But make no mistake, Beisel isn't just an inspiring leader and a tenacious worker—the dude can ball. Look no further than his three-TFL performance against Kentucky in 2016 or his 14-tackle game against South Carolina that same year for proof. Now, he's hoping all the "necessary work" he's done over the last decade will help him achieve his dream of playing in the NFL.
Growing up in Fenton, Missouri, Beisel quickly became addicted to competition. Whether it was lacrosse, baseball, basketball, soccer, football or even ping pong, Beisel always wanted to play—and wanted to win.
"I played every sport you can imagine. I even joined a ping pong competition once and got second place," Beisel says. "(Playing all those sports) was part of a plan that I didn't quite understand at the time. The footwork you learn from soccer, the aggression you learn from lacrosse, the preciseness you learn from baseball—and then all those sports being team sports (and) you take the leadership qualities from those and (learning) to be a team player and earn the trust of of your teammates on and off the field—all those qualities go into being a great linebacker."
By the time he was a freshman at Rockwood Summit, Beisel knew football was his passion. It spoke to his soul in a way other sports simply could not. Knowing he'd found his calling, he was determined to become the best player he could be. But he had played three sports his freshman year—football, basketball and baseball—which left him little time to train.
"I watched those STACK videos (around that time), and I started to understand how important the training was and the weightlifting was and the size and speed. I always wanted to play a level higher than competition. In high school, I wanted to be a Division-I linebacker playing high school football," Beisel says. "When I started to learn that and saw the guys I would be playing against at the D1 level, I realized maybe I had to give up basketball in order to spend more time in the weight room and fine-tune those skills that could take me to the next level. I think the first adult decision I ever made was going in and meeting with the head basketball coach at my high school and saying, 'I see a future in football and this is my dream. And I think I need to spend a little more time in the weight room in order to gain that strength, size and speed to be a Division-I linebacker."
A "little time" in the weight room is a monumental understatement, as Beisel soon become a bonafide gym rat. Rockwood's football team didn't have a mandatory strength program at the time, so Beisel took it upon himself to create one. He researched programs from some of the top college teams in the nation and implemented many of those same principles in the Falcons' workouts. "We didn't really have a mandatory lifting schedule. But I wanted that, because I knew the best teams in Missouri were lifting every day. So I got on Excel, and I started researching Ohio State, Mizzou, their programs and what they did. I started to design workouts based off what I'd done before and what I'd learned, and I really formulated our strength program," Beisel says.
Beisel also acted as the unofficial bus driver to these workouts. "I took my mom's van and I nicknamed it the Muscle Mobile. I'd go around at 4 a.m. and pick up as many guys as I could—9 or 10 guys in a van that should only hold 7," Beisel says. "I was flying around, (because) we were starting our workout at 5 a.m. no matter what."
Beisel recalls the incredible camaraderie that was built during those crack-of-dawn sessions, which included some strict rules. "We had stupid rules like you had to workout with your shirt off if it was anything more than 15 degrees out. So we'd be running hills with our shirts off in 16-degree weather just to build mental toughness and do it together," Beisel says with a laugh. "Football is the greatest team sport."
But, Beisel being Beisel, those team workouts were just one aspect of his training routine. Every Sunday, he'd journey to Elite Football Academy with Alex Armstrong, his best friend and teammate, to hammer the fundamentals. Afterwards, the two would venture to Alex's basement for a core workout (accompanied by a heavy metal soundtrack) and then they'd go push Mr. Armstrong's pick-up truck around. How's that for a relaxing Sunday?
"I was at Elite Football Academy every Sunday from 6th grade to my senior year of high school. Great facility, great coaches" Beisel says. "Then we'd go in (Alex's) basement and do a core workout. We'd be doing abs, he'd be punching me in the stomach while I'm doing a Plank, heavy metal blaring in the background. Then we'd go out in the street and push his dad's truck uphill for half a mile. We would take turns pushing that truck, and building that foundation in our legs and core. It was fun. Everything we've done is always fun. Results are fun."
Beisel would know. His relentless training helped him morph into a dynamic linebacker, and he was soon stuffing the stat sheet week after week for Rockwood's defense. He tallied 116 tackles as a sophomore and 110 tackles as a junior. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Beisel would often draw double- or even triple-teams due to both his ability and his penchant for smack talk. "I'd always talk a little bit of smack, and it'd always be in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next day. (The opponent) would be printing out my picture and putting it all over their locker room and saying they're gonna come after me. And those were the best games, because I'd be getting triple-teamed, and (that'd open things up) for my teammates," Beisel says.
Winning a state championship was the singular goal that drove Beisel's inexhaustible work ethic. While that goal would elude him, the thirst for championship glory weighed heavily on his mind as he examined his options for the next level. He earned offers from a number of big time programs, including Nebraska, Kansas State and Arkansas. But when Beisel thought about the chance to win a championship at the next level, there was no where he'd rather do it at then the nearby University of Missouri, located just 118 miles from Fenton.
Shortly after Beisel arrived at Mizzou, he drafted a list of goals for himself. Every game, it was his goal to have 15 tackles, 3 big hits, 2 turnovers and 3 tackles for loss. His team goal was a shutout. These lofty goals rarely left Beisel's mind. He thought about them when was running sideline gassers after every practice. Rex Sharp, associate athletic director for sports medicine at Mizzou, would watch every rep, making sure Beisel didn't keel over from exhaustion.
"Eric has tremendous initiative," Sharp told STACK. "With a tireless work ethic." Beisel would soon become a special teams ace for the Tigers, but those goals were never far from his mind. "Every single week that was my goal. It didn't matter if I was starting or not, because if the guy ahead of me went down, I was getting 15 tackles. Every single game. My first start, I had three TFLs against Kentucky. People looked at me like, 'How the heck did you manage that? The first start of your career and you had three TFLs?' I said, 'That's been an expectation of mine for a long time now,'" Beisel says.
Beisel's expectation of greatness—not just for himself, but for the team as a whole—helped him become an emotional leader for the Tigers. Ahead of their final game of the 2016 season, Mizzou found themselves limping into the "Battle Line" rivalry against Arkansas with a 3-8 record. It was a disappointing season and any hope of playing in a bowl game had long since vanished. Arkansas, meanwhile, entered the game with a 7-4 record which included three victories over top-15 teams.
"No one believed in us at all. Last game of the season, things weren't going as planned. And Arkansas was doing well that year, they were good—really good," Beisel says. In an effort to infuse some passion in the Tigers and their fanbase, Beisel pulled out an old trick from his Rockwood Summit days—he smack talked the Razorbacks. Hard.
"When we step out there against Arkansas, we're going to dominate," Beisel told reporters the week of the game, intentionally mispronouncing Arkansas as "Our Kansas."
"I expect Arkansas to prepare this week. Whether they decide to get on a plane and show up at our stadium on Friday, that's their call. It's going to be hectic. Our fans are going to bring it. And we're going to bring it. It'd be a big mistake—showing up here in Missouri."
Guess what? It worked. Missouri edged Arkansas 28-24, and Beisel totaled 8 tackles and a TFL. "That was the most fun game I played in at Mizzou," Beisel says. "It brought out a fire in our team we didn't have all season, and guys started trusting me."
That trust manifested into Beisel being a unanimous pick for one of the team's four captain spots the following season. Selected by a player's vote, the honor meant the world to him. "That was huge for me. I lead for my teammates. Every middle linebacker on a team should be a captain, but it shouldn't be given to them," Beisel says.
While Beisel popped in and out of the starting lineup throughout the 2017 season, his leadership never wavered. When the Tigers got off to a 1-5 start, he didn't panic. He continued to put in the work like he always had, while encouraging his teammates to prepare to play their best. Missouri would rip off six straight wins and finish the season at 7-6.
Shortly after he'd played his final game in the black and gold, Beisel was once again consumed with visions of a championship. The pursuit of a championship had always been his fuel, a goal at the end of a never-ending tunnel. He knew if he wanted to realize his lifelong dream, their was only one place left to do it—the National Football League.
"(The) dream of being a champion is what's driven me my entire life. I came close, two years in a row, in high school. I think we ended up losing to the eventual state champion both years. Immediately, at the University of Missouri, my goal was to win a national championship. And that didn't happen, either. But I will not complete my career until I have a championship," Beisel says. "I think a lot of athletes these days lose sight of winning and focus on their own individual stats…I challenge every high school athlete who has dreams of playing at the next level to put everything they've got into being the best teammate you can be and winning a championship."
To help him prepare for the next level, Beisel turned to Proactive Sports Performance (Westlake Village, California). Even Beisel, the ultimate gym rat, couldn't help but be impressed by Proactive's approach. "Proactive gives you a different style of training—I call it a pro-style of training. It's a training I've never really gotten the full effect of until I entered these doors," Beisel says.
When STACK caught up with Beisel on location, it didn't take long for us to realize why he's long carried the nickname "Zeus." It's not just the fiery red beard or the hulking physique—it's the way he carries himself. There's a genuine confidence befitting the name—a type of confidence you can only achieve when you fear no challenge. For Beisel, that confidence comes from his mastery of preparation. When you know you put in the work, what's left to be afraid of?
Beisel showed off his impressive blend of size, speed and strength at Missouri's recent Pro Day. His 23 reps on the Bench Press would've tied him for the fifth-most among linebackers at this year's Combine, while his 7.01 in the 3-Cone Drill would've been top-10 at his position. Now, it's time to wait and see what his NFL future holds. In the meantime, he'll continue to do the things that got him here in the first place. "I haven't failed to meet an expectation yet. Week by week, day by day, I'm just inching towards my goals," Beisel says.
Photo Credit: Tim Spyers/Getty Images