NEWARK, N.J. — The Hillcrest Huskies were losing in the third inning, and Zane Beadles wanted the baseball.
Never mind that the 6-foot-4, 275-pound high school senior had pitched seven innings two days before.
“I loved to pitch and have the ball in my hand and have control over the game,” Beadles, a key cog on Denver's offensive line, said at Super Bowl Media Day.
He expressed a similar thought after Denver's AFC divisional playoff win over San Diego in mid-January, when Beadles and the offense sustained a late drive and preserved their lead. The Broncos ended the game in control, with the ball in their hands.
So, an athlete who was known to stop and help opponents after knocking them down in youth basketball games and was viewed as possibly too kind to play college football has brought his more aggressive baseball approach to the NFL. He's thriving as an offensive guard who protects the league's least-sacked quarterback, achieving professional success that's only part of his own story.
“Football doesn't define him,” said his father, Brad Beadles.
Winning the Super Bowl is not among Beadles' lifetime goals that include a charitable foundation (launched) and postgraduate education (to come). He's as multidimensional as any professional athlete could be, as shown by his academic pursuits at the University of Utah and his community involvement.
Beadles also keeps improving as a football player, partly because he's fully devoted to his job, without worrying about mechanical engineering. As a student at Utah, he often would attend project meetings with ice packs strapped to his knees after practice, while never mentioning football unless someone asked him.
“He was there to be a student,” said professor Don Bloswick, who wanted to have more football discussions with Beadles. “I wish we had more students like him.”
Beadle had a reputation for being so friendly, including to opponents, that at times it was even problematic.
His high school coach Kirk Merhish and Beadles' father, who helped coached him, invented ways to upset him, making him appropriately aggressive. Even when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham asked about Beadles, Merhish told him, “He's just kind of a nice kid.”
He also was athletic enough to play basketball and steal bases on the diamond.
“People would look at him and say, 'He can't run,' ” said Gary Daniels, his high school baseball coach. “He probably could have played college baseball, if he really wanted to.”
Beadles loved baseball so much that he cried in the dugout after a state tournament defeat ended his career, even after he signed to play football for Utah. Following a redshirt year in 2005, he started 50 games in four seasons for the Utes, contributing to four bowl victories (including the Sugar Bowl) and becoming an All-American and the Mountain West Conference's Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
The Broncos drafted him in the second round in 2010, and he's started 62 of 64 regular-season games. In the NFL, he's become mean enough to succeed, while making his intelligence work in his favor.
“He's so damn smart,” said Dave Magazu, the Broncos' line coach. “If I say anything wrong, he's there to get me squared away.”
Beadles will become a free agent after the Super Bowl and would prefer to stay with the Broncos, but will seek “a fair deal,” he said.
Denver's location is ideal for Beadles' family; his mother, Jamie, and stepfather, Wyoming women's basketball coach Joe Legerski, live within 150 miles. His father and stepmother, Jill, are in Sandy, Utah.
Part of the Zane Beadles Parade Foundation's mission is helping children affected by divorce, although his own experience effectively gave him an extra set of supportive parents. He's also driven to assist children with cancer after meeting Ryker Fox, a 7-year-old who died in 2007, shortly after the boy's wishes of being involved with the Ute football team were fulfilled.
“That had a big effect on me,” Beadles said.
And that's among the reasons Beadles will have more to accomplish in life, even if he becomes a Super Bowl champion Sunday.
Kurt Kragthorpe is a sports writer for Digital First Media at the Salt Lake Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @tribkurt.