The city of Youngstown, Ohio, used to make steel, but now its chief exports are compact cars -- there's a GM plant on the outskirts of town -- and Penn State offensive backs.
At times during last weekend's victory at Michigan, the Nittany Lions' backfield was made up entirely of Youngstown natives. Senior Daryll Clark of Ursuline High started at quarterback, while sophomore Brandon Beachum of Cardinal Mooney High backed up Evan Royster at tailback. And that's not even the entirety of Penn State's Youngstown connection; there's also redshirt freshman Michael Zordich, another Cardinal Mooney graduate and one of Beachum's best friends.
I'd really like to see him at fullback, Beachum said, and maybe even one of these games have an all-Youngstown backfield, with myself, Michael and Daryll.
It's an interesting idea, but for a city whose population has been in decline, a city whose allegiance is to Ohio State, a city that doesn't even lie within the borders of the commonwealth, two out of three ain't bad.
Filling in for the injured Stephfon Green, Beachum carried seven times for 23 yards in the Lions' 35-10 victory in Ann Arbor. He's likely to serve as Royster's backup at Northwestern this week as Green recovers from his ankle injury.
Beachum and Clark go way back. The tailback's father, Lock Beachum Jr., was an assistant coach at Ursuline when Clark was the school's starting quarterback. The younger Beachum used to hang around the practice field and worked as a ball boy while his father coached the linebackers.
I knew Daryll back then when I was in seventh or eighth grade, and I used to carry his shoulder pads over to the stadium, Beachum recalled. It's crazy to look back on it now. I used to be the little kid on the sideline wearing his jersey, and now we're playing together.
Beachum went on to rush for 1,525 yards as a senior at Mooney, Ursuline's archrival, and graduated from high school in three and a half years. He enrolled at Penn State in January 2008, eager to see action right away. Offered an opportunity to redshirt, he turned it down and looked to make an impact on special teams.
Joe Paterno took a liking to Beachum right away, primarily because of his versatility. The coaches used him on special teams and at tailback last year and moved him to fullback earlier this season before Green got hurt. For a while, they even considered giving him a shot at playing defense. Beachum actually was a great linebacker in high school, Paterno said.
Beachum has only carried 45 times in his career so far, but he has seen action in 21 games, and that streak is likely to continue even after Green comes back. He's got plenty of fans back home, although some of them might not be cheering quite so hard when Penn State faces Ohio State next week. And he's looking forward to playing an expanded role in the future.
I'm really enjoying my time here, Beachum said. I'm happy with my decision to play last year. I don't know how many people have done it, but I've played in every game that I've been here for so far, and I'm really proud of that accomplishment.
I've grown a lot as a running back, as a player and as an individual. I love school and I'm having fun with the whole experience.