Badgers' Beckum makes strides on, off field

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Travis Beckum didn't get off to a great start with his soon-to-be head coach at Wisconsin.

In 2005, Beckum was an 18-year-old freshman linebacker for the Badgers when he sat down with Bret Bielema, the team's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach who would succeed Barry Alvarez the next season. Back then, Beckum didn't know what's what or, more important, who's who.

"I remember the first meeting I ever had with Travis," Bielema said. "When he first came to campus, I think he referred to me as, 'dude.' I explained to him that my name's not 'dude' and that 'coach B' would be just fine."

Beckum learned Bielema's proper title and a whole lot more during the next few months and years.

After collecting only two tackles as a freshman, Beckum switched to tight end, a position he had never played before. Despite his inexperience, the transition went seamlessly, as Beckum earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and set a school record for tight ends for both receptions [61] and yards [903] in 2006. Last season, he broke both marks, leading the Badgers in receiving for the second straight season and topping Division I-A tight ends in yards with 982.

Beckum enters the fall as the Big Ten's top returning receiver, a near-consensus preseason All-American and the Mackey Award frontunner. He has racked up 1,885 receiving yards and covered even more ground from a maturity standpoint.

"I remember that [meeting]," Beckum said Sunday at Wisconsin's media day. "I was still a baby. I've learned a lot. You've just got to realize that everyone's different and you can talk to people one way and others another way. Then, I wouldn't categorize myself as a man, but now I do."

Beckum's relationship with Bielema has grown the last three years, but the two still take jabs at each other. During Saturday's scrimmage at Camp Randall stadium, No. 2 tight end Garrett Graham made a nice catch, prompting Bielema to chirp, "Beckum who?" Beckum, sitting out the scrimmage with lower-body tightness, quickly countered.

At a team meeting earlier in the week, Beckum and his teammates received their scholarship checks, which they complained were not for enough money. Hearing the griping, Bielema talked about how much harder he had it when he played college ball.

"I said, 'You guys don't have any idea. When I was a player at Iowa, we got a check for like $400,'" Bielema said. "They get $900 every two months or whatever it is. And Travis goes, 'Yeah? But what about your check now?'"

Touché, dude.

Beckum was the one who could have pocketed a sizable check in April had he entered the NFL draft. The draft projections varied after last season -- Beckum heard he could go anywhere from the first to the third round -- but there was nothing definitive.

"It was something I definitely looked at," Beckum said. "What was really tough was the games that I played better in, I was like, 'Oh, maybe I really should come out.' But I'm happy with my decision. I don't regret it at all. From what I've seen on the team and the team chemistry that we could have this year, I see nothing but success. It makes my decision a lot easier."

Beckum's last two seasons and his preseason accolades have elevated expectations for this fall, which is nothing new for the Milwaukee native. He has heard a multitude of opinions on his draft status, his potential for production and even the position he plays.

At 6-4 and 235 pounds, Beckum is often labeled a receiver rather than a tight end, especially because he'll line up out wide. But his blocking responsibilities put him somewhere on the H-back, tight end continuum.

Whatever category Beckum fits, his goal for the fall is simple.

"Play better than I did last year," he said. "That doesn't mean I need to catch more than [75] balls. Maybe being able to be more dependent on offense or being a much better blocker will satisfy me. ... I just like to stay grounded and know that I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in."