Dual-sport athlete bolsters GVSU receiving core

GVL / Kevin Sielaff
The Grand Valley State University football squad gathers for its annual media day Wednesday, August 19th, 2015. The afternoon aimed to promote the highly anticipated 2015 football season, while also making predictions for what the year ahead might hold. Brandon Bean (3) laughs and he receives the football.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff The Grand Valley State University football squad gathers for its annual media day Wednesday, August 19th, 2015. The afternoon aimed to promote the highly anticipated 2015 football season, while also making predictions for what the year ahead might hold. Brandon Bean (3) laughs and he receives the football.

Adam Knorr

Take a look at Brandon Bean and it’s obvious that he’s exactly where he wants to be. With a smile wider than the uprights and pep in his step to match, it’s hard to catch the Grand Valley State sophomore when he’s down.

And it’s even harder to catch him when he has the ball in his hands.

The sophomore wide receiver has begun to display signs of a breakout season in his second year with the GVSU football team. Through three games, Bean has established himself as a rare blend of safe option mixed with big play potential.

The 18-year-old has hauled in 16 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns – all of which lead the team. Last year, Bean was named GLIAC Rookie of the Year, and pulled in six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

He may have been Rookie of the Year in 2014, but 2015 is beginning to look like Year of the Bean.

The Southfield High School alumnus is just doing what he loves and knows best – playing football.

But he has some other talents, too.

Bean does double duty for GVSU athletics, competing as a high jumper for Jerry Baltes’ track and field team. His best jump as a Laker is 2.05 meters – a number he is proud of – although it doesn’t fulfill all he hoped to do on the track.

“One reason I got into track is because I went to the same high school as my dad and he had the long jump record at Southfield High School and I wanted to beat him,” Bean said. “He jumped 24-feet-1-inch, which is crazy in high school, and I didn’t quite get that but ended up doing OK in the high jump.”

Athleticism abounds both on the track and on the turf, but Bean’s heart is in football – another nod to his father, Vince, who played wide receiver at the University of Michigan and for the St. Louis Rams.

At one point, Brandon Bean looked on track to join his father in the Division I football ranks. During his junior season, he was in touch with the University of Cincinnati and a number of MAC schools, among others.

A few games into his senior year, however, Bean broke his fibula after taking a hit trying to catch a pass thrown by now-GVSU cornerback and then-Southfield quarterback Tre Walton.

Bean’s Division I suitors got skittish and backed off. GVSU stuck around, and his football career continues in Allendale.

But does the ‘what-if’ question loom for Bean? Had the injury never happened, Division II could have turned to Division I, and a crowd of 16,000 might have seemed meager.

“I got asked that question before, and whenever people ask me that, I look down, I see the GV on my chest, and it’s like, ‘no,’” Bean said. “I mean, most people glamorize DI because of the title, but I wouldn’t change my map for the world. Healthy or not, of course how I feel about football, competing I would have loved to finish out my senior year, but I’m at a great place.

“I love Grand Valley. I love the coaches, I love the atmosphere, I love the culture and I really wouldn’t change it. And that’s honest.”

Neither would any of Bean’s coaches. Of GVSU’s top three receivers in 2014, by catches, none were on the team to start the season. Jamie Potts has since returned, but, due partly to the injury to Troy Sassack and partly due to the senior exodus, the Lakers needed someone to step up as a top receiver.

It may be just three games into the season, but Bean is emerging as that man.

“He’s super competitive – that’s quality number one. He hates to lose even one-on-one battles,” said GVSU head coach Matt Mitchell. “He’s a very physical player, big hands, just does a really good job. There have been a couple drops we were disappointed about but he really tracks the ball well. We really look to him to be our number one guy and I think you’re seeing it those first couple weeks.”

Bean is one of a twelve-member leadership council for the GVSU football team. He and Walton – his former high school quarterback – are the only two sophomores on the council, which works to lead the team and share goals in a positive way.

“He’s a positive, upbeat person, supportive to his teammates, a great role model, team guy and a great personality,” Baltes said. “Some people step into your program when they’ve been on the football team and they demand attention and treat people unfairly. He’s the opposite – treats everyone with respect.”

When making his college decision, Bean was largely attracted to GVSU because of Mitchell’s promise to build a strong culture. The culture and camaraderie on this year’s team, for Bean, is like nothing he’s ever been a part of.

“I’ve never been around a team this close,” Bean said. “It’s a great group of guys. I’ve built relationships with some guys that will continue on way past football.

“There aren’t cliques (in the locker room). It’s a close-knit family. They way (Mitchell) was preaching about building a culture here, it came true, it’s just fun. Usually when you play football, you’re having fun on the field, and we’re having fun on the field and off the field.”

A close-knit family in the locker room and a close-knit family off makes for a happy Brandon Bean. High-pointing a pass and coming down with a jump ball builds on that happiness. Going to work on a plate of triple bacon, eggs, pancakes and French toast? Forget about it.

Following a similar path his father took has led Bean to a place he loves, success and happiness. But he darts out of the locker room after the interview to add one last thing – securing a promise for a shoutout to his mom, Tracy, the main ingredient in Bean’s mile-wide smile.

It’s still early for the Grand Valley State football team, and a week three loss to Ferris State will fade as time goes on. Until the sting goes away, Bean will keep doing what he’s been doing – catching passes, learning to lead a team and listening to J. Cole on repeat (Born Sinner over 2014 Forest Hills Drive).

In a few months, football will end for the season and the transfer back to track and field will begin. The gridiron at Lubbers Stadium will be devoid of football cleats while Bean lays his track spikes into the ground and soars above a bar.

Football may be gone for the time being, but not in Bean’s mind.

“Talk about an escape. Football – out here those are the best hours of my day, just being able to play,” he said. “(I) never get sick of it. I get sick when I get away from it. Even during track season still thinking about football and spring ball.

“When you’re away from it, you miss it. When it’s here, you never want it to go away.”