SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – He was the best football player in Missouri, a dominant receiver who possessed a man-amongst-boys frame combined with outstanding leaping ability and athleticism.
In the winter, he wore a different hat – or jersey – and transformed into the state’s most dominant big man on the hardwood, routinely registering double-doubles and developing a reputation as one of the best high-flyers around.
On the track and in the field, a place he rarely had time to practice or refine, he captured state titles in two events, the 100-meter dash and triple jump, and finished second in the long jump.
Off the field, he overcame the challenges of being raised by a single parent with a substance abuse problem and no stable place to live.
Dorial Green-Beckham, a rising junior at Hillcrest High School (Springfield, Mo.), has overcome a troubled upbringing to become one of the most dominant three-sport athletes in recent memory.
"He’s like the high school version of Randy Moss," CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Lemming said.
In 2009, Lemming ranked Moss, a three-sport standout at DuPont High School in Belle, W.Va., the greatest high school player he’s ever seen.
Green, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound specimen, has been a well-known entity since middle school, where his athletic gifts separated him from his peers.
He's ever-present on local television networks. This particular week one station showed a re-run of Hillcrest's state championship basketball victory over Oakville in which Green-Beckham scored 21 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, including a furious run of eight-straight points and two blocked shots to help the Hornets overcome a late deficit.
Just days later, three networks aired footage of Green-Beckham receiving the 2009-2010 MaxPreps Male Athlete of the Year award.
That's a consequence of already owning one of the most impressive athletic resumes in state history after just two years of varsity sports.
Green-Beckham first made his name in the fall of 2008 as a freshman wide receiver on the football team. He immediately stood out, if for no other reason than his extraordinary size. But his 800-yard, 13-touchdown rookie campaign spoke volumes of his potential.
"He was good, but he made freshman mistakes," Hillcrest football coach John Beckham said.
Despite his early success on the gridiron, he earned some early fame on the hardwood.
"I started dunking in the seventh grade," he said. "I really didn't start playing football until my seventh grade year."
Hillcrest's basketball coach, John Schaefer said that he fit right in and quickly adjusted to his role on the varsity team.
"We had a really nice team, so he was pretty much a role player," Schaefer said. "He showed that he could do a lot of things, but he had to be more passive with that particular group."
In the spring, Green took his talents to the track, where he posted a time of 22.21 seconds in the 200 meters, one of the fastest times in the country for his grade.
His freshman season was just a warm up for the mammoth sophomore campaign in which he was about to embark. He entered the football season with a year of varsity seasoning. With older half-brother Sam Smith no longer on the team, it was Green-Beckham's turn to assume a bigger role on and off the field.
"I think he became more of a leader as a sophomore," Beckham said.
Green-Beckham's ability to dictate his team's performance on the field is what truly made his sophomore season so exceptional.
"He can just take over whenever,” teammate Donovan Mathis said. "Just give him the ball."
Easier said than done, of course.
"People think it's easy with Dorial," Hillcrest offensive coordinator Andy McFarland said. "When he gets the ball, it is easy. But I spend my nights trying to figure out how to get him the ball."
Despite facing a bevy of double and triple teams, Green-Beckham put forth a Herculean effort, hauling in 66 passes totaling 1,616 yards and 23 touchdowns, powering Hillcrest to a 7-5 record in 2009. It came on the heels of a 2-8 season.
On the Hornet basketball team, Green came into his own. Extremely versatile, Green-Beckham played every position and was the go-to player down the stretch of their title-winning drive.
"There were times where he'd bring the ball down, pass and post up, and we'd throw him the ball down in the post," Schaefer said. "I know that sounds pretty crazy, but that did happen a couple different games."
The achievement that ultimately propelled Green-Beckham over the top for MaxPreps' Male Athlete of the Year award came in the spring. Despite a demanding schedule that left little time to practice, Green-Beckham captured gold medals in the state's 100 and triple jump, while finishing second in the long jump.
His talent in the sport is almost entirely raw.
"I don't think I've ever seen him practice the triple jump," McFarland said.
Green-Beckham confessed he practiced the event three times. Scary considering he soared 47 feet, 2 1/2 inches to win the state title. The triple jump is arguably the most technical of all track and field events.
If he could win a state crown and bound to almost 50 feet – a mark which annually ranks at the top of the national leaderboard – just messing around, what could he do if he spent hour upon painstaking hour focusing on one event, one sport, one season?
For now, at the ripe age of 17, we won’t know. He’s content on playing the field and dominating at every turn. And though he makes it look easy, it’s not he says.
"You don't get a break,” he said. “It's hard. As soon as football's over you go straight to basketball, then after that you go straight to track. After that, it's summer, it's AAU basketball and football offseason, then it starts right up again."
But at least there’s a fluidity to the seasons, a knowing start, clear path and distinct end, all certainties his volatile and broken childhood lacked.A Troubled Path
Born Dorial Green on April 12, 1993 in St. Louis, Mo., he is the third of six children born to Charmelle Green, a single mother.
Growing up, Dorial bounced around the state, spending significant chunks in both St. Louis and Springfield, separated by over three hours and major cultural chasms, the former a Democrat-dominated liberal bastion and the latter a slow-talking, decidedly red "small-town" of 150,000.
He recalled spending time in Springfield's John B. Hughes apartment complex and attending Ed V. Williams elementary school. But as he got into middle school, his living situation became less static.
According to her son, Charmelle was an alcoholic who had multiple run ins with the law. Missouri court records seem to corroborate that, suggesting some drug abuse, domestic abuse, and theft.
Dorial and his five siblings spent time living with various family members.
He doesn’t know who his biological father is.
"We had difficulties living with (Charmelle)," Dorial said. "She was drinking, abusing alcohol, and wouldn't stop."
Said Tracy Beckham, John’s wife: "She was in prison more often than not."
Even when she was around, living conditions for Dorial and his siblings were often brutal.
In most places they stayed, Dorial did not sleep in a bed. Because of his height, he was usually relegated to the floor.
That was when they slept in places that had a mattress. For six months, the family lived out of a van.
At one point, they stayed in the basement of a relative, who locked the door to deny them access to other parts of the house. The children would sneak in and out of a window to get food.
Sam and Vincent, Dorial’s oldest brother, had to hold the family down as teenagers when Charmelle left their government housing to live with a boyfriend at the time.
According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Charmelle is currently on probation for receiving stolen property. Attempts to contact her through the Missouri Department of Corrections for this story were unsuccessful.
Through the family tumult, Dorial banded together with his brother Sam, who is two years older, and his younger brother Darnell, who is three years younger.
Dorial felt a special call to look after Darnell.
"I think he does look up to me," he said. "He doesn't always show it, but you can tell. He is always trying to get my jersey number in football."
His brother was always a priority when it came to important decisions.
"I wouldn't have done anything if he didn't want to do it," he said.
Finding Hope on the Field
While his family life was often unpredictable and riddled with despair, athletics stood in stark contrast for the boys. They offered structure and opportunity.
Sports seemed like the only release from family life for the brothers, especially Dorial, who was always tall for his age. He was talented for sure, but it was never clear just how gifted.
"As a sixth grader, he was a good athlete, probably about 6-1, 6-2, but raw," Schaefer said. "A really strong kid, fast, good hands, but that was it."
"I feel like we used to be closer, athletically," said teammate Jeremy Coleman, who played middle school football and basketball with Green. "Then he just grew and took off. It's nuts."
Some moments were more indicative of that than others.
Once, as a seventh grader, a group of local college basketball players came to Dorial's middle school for a dunking performance designed to entertain and impress the assembly of pre-adolescents.
As the slew of alley-ops and two-handed flushes drew to a close, the cast of performers tossed out an open invitation to any middle school student who wanted to try his or her luck throwing one down.
"The next thing you know, they get Dorial out there, and he's dunking better than any of them," Tracy Beckham said. "They had a guy on his hands and knees and Dorial dunked over them.
"They had the local news there to show the other guys, but the whole segment ended up being about Dorial."
Football was more of an odyssey for Dorial.
In his first season of organized football as a seventh grader, Green showed great promise at running back. He recalls breaking numerous runs for long touchdowns and being difficult to tackle, despite his long legs.
A broken hand sidelined him for part of the season and slowed his development at the position.
As an eighth grader, he moved to wide receiver, where he felt more comfortable.
"I decided that's where I'd play in high school," he recalled.
At both positions, he displayed great athleticism for his size
While his athletic career was on the rise, his home life continued to decline. It was clear that living with his mother was no longer viable.
A Coach For All Seasons
No one's ever accused John Beckham of doing things half-heartedly.
When it came to inheriting his in-laws' family tradition of cattle raising, Beckham, a Miami boy at heart who graduated from Coral Gables High School, began to get familiarized with the industry, reading everything he could get his hands on.
Now, he and Tracy raise cattle right on their property, and Beckham has become an amateur authority on the subject.
"He knows more about it than anyone I know," said Jackie Williams, Tracy's mother.
When Beckham took the head coaching job at Hillcrest in 2008 after seven years as an assistant coach at the school followed by a brief stint in the college ranks, academic issues plagued the team's roster.
Rather than address it piecemeal throughout the season whenever it became an issue, Beckham acted resolutely in a move that shocked fellow coaches and school administrators. He gave one of his paid coaching positions to an academic advisor, Ginger McCullough, to work with the football team year-round.
"At first, people thought I was crazy," he said. "But now everybody at the school wants to use her."
With his strict attention to academics, Beckham has increased the team's roster from 47 to 85 in just two years.
When it comes to family life and his household’s open door, the same impassioned spirit resonates.
The Beckhams were married in 1984. Tracy is a life-long Springfield girl with deep family ties to the area, while John, the son of a first-generation Irish immigrant mother, grew up in South Florida.
The couple has always been endowed with the gift of hospitality. After returning from their honeymoon, the house-sitter they hired needed a place to stay. The newlyweds obliged, opening their doors for several months.
For three years at the start of their marriage, the couple struggled with fertility issues before being led to a program that focused on emergency placement for at-risk babies.
"It seemed like a good idea," Beckham said.
Over the next two decades, the Beckhams took in more than two-dozen foster children. Some they nurtured through tough spells. Others they adopted permanently. All of them they opened their hearts to.
"People know we take kids in," Beckham said. "If you build it, they will come."
One of them in need was Dorial.Crossing Patterns
The two crossed paths at a Hillcrest football camp for middle school players, but had yet to develop much of a personal rapport.
Dorial and Darnell were living in a group home in Springfield while Sam attended Hillcrest. John Beckham got to know Dorial and Darnell across the context of a high school football field, but not as players.
The brothers wanted to watch Sam play football Friday nights; the Beckham’s history allowed them to navigate more easily through the occasionally cumbersome child services system and take the boys out for the night, which almost always included a meal.
The brothers were just getting by when they were uprooted from the group home and shipped to St. Louis. Sam and Dorial were to live with their grandmother; Darnell and one of his sisters with an aunt.
The transition disrupted the academic and athletic progress of all the boys, but only Sam’s troubles were recognized, when he was kicked out of school after getting into an altercation.
"That’s what started it with Sam. At least we thought the other two were still in school," said Tracy.
Somebody contacted the Beckhams about taking in Sam, who was soon back at Hillcrest, where he resumed taking classes.
Meanwhile, Dorial and Darnell missed a month of class before anyone got them enrolled in school. Even then, they were failing most of their classes.
It wasn’t long after the Beckhams took in Sam that Dorial and Darnell were taking weekend trips, courtesy of an AAU coach, to Springfield, to get needed breaks from life in inner-city St. Louis.
Despite his grandmother’s best intentions, she simply could not provide for Dorial, who lost 10 pounds in six months.
As Dorial continued to slip further down a troubled hill, the Beckhams saw the need that he and Darnell had for a stable place to live and be cared for.
They also saw a heap of their own challenges.
"It wasn't a good time for us," said Tracy Beckham.
To say the least. Tracy, a nurse and anesthesiologist by trade, had just been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Shortly after that, she endured a brain hemorrhage that led to meningitis.
After a throat surgery to combat the cancer, which had metastasized, and successful treatment of her meningitis, Tracy hit another hurdle on the path to full health. She was vomiting frequently and inexplicably, and no one could figure out why.
After two decades of infertility, Tracy was pregnant.
On June 21, 2005, she gave birth the couple's first biological child, Eliza.
"It was a fun way to end such a long period of bad," Tracy said. "You just never quit wanting to have kids."
Despite the hectic time of major transitions, the Beckhams still couldn't say no to taking in Dorial and Darnell.
"I don't know if they are old enough to realize it or not, but they were running out of chances," Tracy Beckham said.
Charmelle simply couldn't take care of the boys any longer, Dorial said. She didn't want to give up custody, but knew it was for the best.
"She thought she wouldn't see us again," Dorial said. "At the same time, she knew should couldn't care for us."
And the Beckhams could. Even with a current household of nine, Dorial feels safe, grounded and grateful. The Beckhams adoption of both Dorial and Darnell became official on Dec. 30 in 2009.
"They’re really good people," said Dorial. "Very loving and caring."
Learning New Plays
Still, The transition has not always been seamless for Dorial and his brothers.
"They just hadn't been in a normal family situation all their life. It takes a while," Tracy said, as she reminisced about their first Thanksgiving together, when, out of unfamiliarity, Sam refused to taste the turkey they had prepared.
The struggles have mostly been confined to the minutiae of every day life. The Beckhams have a weekly grocery bill of roughly $500, and Tracy washes six loads of laundry each day.
The major opportunities for turmoil, on the other hand, have seemingly passed without much difficulty. For as much as he stands out on the football field, Dorial has blended in very well to the eclectic Beckham clan.
He's gotten along especially well with Malachi, the Beckham's 12-year-old son who was adopted at birth.
"They were all really happy, but Malachi was the happiest," Dorial said. "When we got there, he started hugging us. He was happy he got two big brothers."
The two have bonded over having parents that they don't resemble in the slightest.
"I know exactly how he feels," Dorial said of being a black child with white parents. "I'm used to it. I'm not really focused on what other people think."
He said that if he attracts a set of staring eyes, it’s more likely because of his size, relative to his parents and his siblings, than his race.
He has no hesitation calling the Beckhams "mom" and "dad" and says that people hardly bat an eye when they see the ultra-diverse family in public.
"I think that was a big step for him, to actually have somebody to call dad," Schaefer said of Dorial. "It's a good relationship and Dorial knows that John is looking out for his best interests."
"I don't know where I'd be right now without (them)," Dorial said. "I have no idea.”
Similarly, the Beckhams can’t imagine life without Dorial.
"I feel like we’re the lucky ones. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a blessing for us,” Tracy said. "We really do just love them all the same."
Young siblings look up to Dorial, but he also has some followers from outside the Beckham house.
An 8-year old from Hartville, Mo., attended many Hillcrest basketball games last season and viewed Dorial in a LeBron James light. For his birthday party, his parents reached out to Beckham to see if Dorial could make a brief appearance.
He drove over an hour to the party and ended up staying all afternoon.
"I think that says a lot about Dorial," Beckham said.
A Future Without Boundaries
Dorial Green-Beckham - Male Athlete of the Year
His actions will likely continue to do his speaking athletically.
Hillcrest will be breaking in a new quarterback this season, junior Mitch Futtrell, who has come a long way but will have a giant challenge in replacing Mitch Jenkins.
Short on solutions, teams will continue to double- and triple-team Dorial on the gridiron. When it comes to hoops, the Hornets will be without sparkplug Trey Starks.
He may not post the same gaudy numbers he compiled this year, and he may not be the MaxPreps Male Athlete of the Year in 2010-11. But he's already etched a path for a future so bright.
The Florida Gators have told Dorial that he’s their top recruiting target for the class of 2012.
He has scholarship offers from numerous teams that typically play on New Year’s Day or later.
As he continues to gain experience at wide receiver and add more muscle to his massive frame, Dorial’s potential is limitless.
In addition to the Moss comparison, Lemming likened him to A.J. Green, the silky-smooth receiver from Georgia who could be the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
He'd also like to play basketball in college, if possible. Juggling a rotation of football-basketball-track in high school is not easy, in the prep realm or the collegiate level.
"It's hard for the football players that play basketball," he said.
If anyone knows about navigating that quick switch, be it in sports or in life, it would appear to be Dorial.
As he readies for his junior year, which will be shrouded in attention from media, colleges and fans, he’ll have to prepare for any number of banners that might be tossed onto him: an inner-city success story; a Randy Moss reincarnation; a living testament to the power of foster parents; a local celebrity.
The most appropriate title for the Beckhams: proud parents.
"I can honestly say I don’t know anyone who dislikes him," said Tracy, adding that she felt the Beckhams’ work is nothing special.
Rather, they’re the ones receiving the gifts.
"We’re the lucky ones."
At least in Springfield, it would be difficult to find a sports fan who’s watched Dorial that would disagree.