Iowa's C.J. Beathard groomed to perform

Is this the Year of the Quarterback in the Big Ten? With NFL draft hopefuls, veteran returning starters and other intriguing prospects taking snaps around the league in 2015, it just might be. All week long, we’re taking a closer look at some of this fall’s most interesting Big Ten signal-callers ...

When you were growing up, did you ever want to trade lives with another kid?

C.J. Beathard was that other kid.

Long before becoming Iowa's starting quarterback, Beathard won the childhood lottery. He spent his formative years in the Nashville area at the intersection of pro football and the music industry. There were weekend trips to NFL games or training complexes. Musicians hung out at his house before -- and after -- they made it big.

Beathard thought all these folks were just normal people, despite their gargantuan frames and golden voices. Thanks to his grandfather, longtime NFL executive Bobby Beathard, he became close with players such as Junior Seau, Michael Vick and T.J. Duckett. Thanks to his father, Casey, an award-winning country music songwriter, he became close with artists such as Eric Church, who is still a regular at the Beathard home.

Because Beathard was homeschooled until seventh grade, he could join Casey in the studio and could drop in on the Chargers or Falcons when his grandfather worked for those teams. (Bobby was the Chargers general manager until 1999 and a senior advisor for the Falcons in 2002-03.)

"It was the best of both worlds," Casey Beathard said. "It was just natural to be hanging out at Kenny Chesney's house, or sitting in a studio and Trace Adkins is singing. Then on weekends we'd drive down to Atlanta or fly out to San Diego and they (C.J. and brothers Tucker and Clay) got to spend a lot of time in the locker room and on the sidelines. They got to be around their heroes.

"They probably thought that’s what everybody did."

Beathard's unique childhood had benefits beyond the fun factor. He was constantly around high achievers.

He learned how to perform, first as the frontman for a kiddie rock band with his two younger brothers, then as a standout high school quarterback in the Nashville area. Beathard has been groomed for this moment at Iowa, when he no longer will share the stage.

"Before you go on stage, you're nervous, just like before a game," Beathard said. "But once the first play is over, the nerves go away, just like when you're up there with the first song. When you're on the field and in a groove, throwing the ball, doing this, doing that, it's fun. Just like playing music, you get up there playing and you start getting in your groove, playing a song.

"You don't want to come off the stage."

Beathard took an undulating path to the top of Iowa's marquee. As Jake Rudock's backup last season, he saw significant action in two September games, had his role decrease during Big Ten play and re-emerged in Iowa's ugly loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. He was brilliant in relief against Pitt, completing seven of eight pass attempts, but accuracy was an issue in both of his extended appearances (30-for-60 passing against Purdue and Tennessee).

A week after the bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz took the unusual step of releasing a postseason depth chart that listed Beathard, the subject of transfer buzz, ahead of Rudock. Ferentz then said Beathard "gives us the best chance to move forward." Rumblings of a Rudock exit came to fruition last month when he transferred to Michigan.

The message to Beathard this spring? It's your team, so lead.

"I liked it a lot," Beathard said. "Because I'm not splitting the [first-team] reps, I just felt more in rhythm. It was easier to lead. I felt like we were grooving a lot."

Start printing the T-shirts. Iowa football: Grooving in 2015.

Beathard's mobility and arm strength give Iowa's offense a different look this fall. The Hawkeyes typically feature pocket passers but Beathard's escapability (5.6 yards per carry last season) could help as Iowa loses both starting tackles, including Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff, the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft. Iowa ranked 59th nationally in pass plays of 20 yards or longer last fall (39), but Beathard accounted for three of the team's six longest pass plays despite playing significantly less than Rudock.

He's a receiver's best friend, both literally and figuratively. Beathard lives with two Hawkeyes wideouts, Riley McCarron and Andrew Stone, and next door to two possible feature targets, Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer.

"He's got a live arm, always has," Ferentz said. "It won't be an issue of, can he do it? You have to have the right plays and get people open."

Iowa's recent quarterbacks have fit different character roles. There was "the Patriot" Ricky Stanzi, with his "love it or leave it" line and social commentary. There was "the Man's Man" James Vandenberg, who once killed a bear with a bow and arrow. There was "the Brain" Rudock, a microbiology major who wanted to pursue pediatric medicine.

Now comes "the Free Spirit," the quarterback known as C.J. Sunshine because of his long blond hair. Beathard still writes country songs, and he and Stone occasionally hold basement jam sessions.

"I've been around music all my life," Beathard said. "It's relaxing."

Sports and music run together for the Beathard men. Casey played wide receiver at Elon College, then an NAIA school, before music hooked him and he packed up his truck for Nashville. Tucker, the middle brother, was a standout baseball player who turned down a scholarship at Middle Tennessee to pursue music; he has a writing/recording deal with Big Machine Records. C.J.'s youngest brother, Clay, also plays quarterback and was named Tennessee's Mr. Football for his division in 2014.

Growing up, the Beathard brothers formed a band called Fayd 49 (49 was part of their home address) that performed at local talent shows. C.J. played lead guitar and wrote most of the songs. Tucker played drums and Clay assisted on guitar.

"He held his own," Tucker said of C.J. "His voice was different. I wouldn't say it was great. It wasn't terrible. He definitely has some talent in songwriting."

C.J. could pen lyrics about his unique journey. As a sophomore at a new high school, he went from fifth-stringer in the preseason to starter by Game 3. Bound to play college ball at Ole Miss, he reversed course after new coach Hugh Freeze told him Bo Wallace would be the Rebels' quarterback in a spread offense.

He has waited his turn at Iowa and didn't land the starting job in spectacular fashion, but he wants to show that the coaches made the right call.

"I'm now the guy at quarterback," he said. "I don't have to be looking over my shoulder."

Beathard's charmed childhood put him around elite performers. In the process, he learned what it takes to be one.

"I've been telling C.J. since day one: It's not supposed to be easy, you've got to climb the ladder," Casey Beathard said. "He knows what I was trying to do, how it was a pipe dream to be a songwriter and do this. And being able to go into the [NFL] locker rooms and see how these guys work and hang out with the best coaches in the world, knowing what it really takes to prepare.

"He doesn't get rattled by the lights or the big stage."