Georgia Boy

I’ve wanted the Atlanta Falcons to win a Super Bowl since I was a little kid. I can still remember crying when they lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Broncos. I was six years old and I was watching the game with my parents. I was crushed …

I grew up in Adairsville, Georgia, about an hour up Interstate 75 north of Atlanta. As a kid, when I would score touchdowns or make big plays — either on the football field or just in my mind, daydreaming — I’d imagine I was doing it in a Falcons uniform.

So getting drafted by the Falcons this past May was literally a dream come true.

The first Falcons jersey I ever owned was a Michael Vick jersey. He was my favorite player. When he came to Atlanta, nobody was bigger. If you saw anyone wearing a Falcons jersey, it was most likely that Michael Vick No. 7.

And although my family and I watched just about every game played in the Georgia Dome when I was growing up, I never got to catch a game there live — I only saw them on TV.

In fact, the first time I ever saw a Falcons game in person at the Georgia Dome was this year when I put on that Falcons helmet and ran through the tunnel myself. It was like I had been watching the games all my life in black and white, and now it was in full color. The crowd — which had my parents and my whole family in it — was louder than I’d ever remembered from watching on TV. The place was practically shaking. It was crazy. It’s a hard feeling to put into words when you’ve literally dreamed about something for so long, and then you get the chance to go out and do it. It’s like deja vu, man — like you’ve already lived it and you’re living it all over again.

When I ran through that tunnel, it marked the end of one journey and the start of another. It’s funny: I spent most of my life working to make it to the NFL — and now that I’ve made it, I’m working twice as hard just to prove I belong.

I started off strong. I had a couple of sacks in my first few games, and I was feeling pretty good. I felt comfortable and confident that I could play at this level. Since then, the sack numbers haven’t been there, but I still feel like I’ve been impacting the game in some way every time I’m on the field. I just always need to be looking for new ways to change my game to reach that next level where I can consistently contribute every week, every down.

That’s one of the reasons that, just a few weeks ago, I decided to change my diet.

Early in my career at Clemson, I ate like most college kids ate. Wendy’s. Sonic. Chicken sandwiches. Chicken nuggets. Always with fries. Looking back, I think it kind of slowed me down on the field. It wasn’t until we got a special meal plan just for football players that was more tailored to what our bodies needed that I really started to eat better. More greens, less junk food — just a healthier diet.

I felt the difference on the field, too. I felt fresher, leaner. It was my first big lesson in taking care of my body.

A few weeks back, I hired a nutritionist who’s been creating meal plans tailored to my specific body type and how my body functions. It’s a science, man. Everybody’s body operates so differently, and having someone here to tell me what my body needs and when it needs it is going to allow me to stay lean and fast but still get more powerful and explosive. I can already feel the change in my body, and it’s only been a few weeks. I have more energy. It’s more sustainable. I feel great. The game is so fast at this level that the margin for error is so small, and I’m hoping that’s the extra little bit I need to get that edge I’m looking for.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Coach Quinn and the vets on this team, it’s that it’s the little things at this level that make the good ones great.

I still can’t believe how fortunate I’ve been to have ended up living my NFL dream with the team I grew up watching as a kid. People always say you should never forget where you came from. Even if I hadn’t landed in Atlanta, I never would have. Adairsville is too big a part of who I am. My heart has always been in Northern Georgia.

It’s just that now, instead of seeing “Vick” on the backs of Falcons jerseys when I walk down the streets of my hometown, every now and then I see “Beasley Jr.”

There’s nothing cooler than that.

I get to go back to Adairsville often and support my old high school team and talk to kids in the community. When I was a kid, we never had the privilege of having an NFL player visit our school, so it’s pretty gratifying to be able to give the kids from my hometown something I never had.

But there’s something else I want to give the kids and people of my hometown — and Falcons fans all over Georgia and all over the country.

A Super Bowl ring.

Just like when I was a kid, I’m still hoping for a Falcons Super Bowl run. Only now, I’m one of the guys putting in the work trying to make it happen.