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2023 NFL Draft interview: Johnson C. Smith University wide receiver Dante Beard

WCG’s Lead Draft Analyst speaks with an athletic HBCU sleeper.

The determination that Johnson C. Smith wide receiver Dante Beard has shown to achieve his dreams is admirable.

A recent tweet indicates best what Beard’s collegiate journey has consisted of to this point:

On nights when he’s been able to sleep, some of those times have been on the floor of college dorms or in his car. He started off at Brevard College, transferred to Savannah State but got ruled ineligible, played at Ramah Juco Academy, jumped to Livingstone College and then finished off his collegiate career at Johnson C. Smith. His ability to balance a full-time job and training for the 2023 NFL Draft has been incredibly remarkable, and it’s all been for one goal: to play professional football.

Beard spoke with Windy City Gridiron about his preparation for the NFL, his experience at tight end, his collegiate career, and more.

JI: For those unfamiliar with your journey, can you describe the process for you going from Livingstone to Johnson C. Smith?

DB: It actually started coming out of community college. I was going to [Ramah Juco Academy] over in Rock Hill, South Carolina. When the season was over with, considering how much time I did in school, my top college...I couldn’t really go Division I due to my time. I wasn’t really familiar with a lot of D2 schools. My coach got me in with Livingstone. Getting over there, the coach over there, I loved him. I had a good fall camp, but somewhere down the line, I had some paperwork issues that ruled me ineligible; that caused me to miss a lot of my 2019 season. Once that transpired, that’s when COVID occurred in 2020 that spring, so we got kicked out of school. We didn’t have a spring [season], then they cancelled the 2020 fall season. That kind of set me back, as well. Spring 2021, we were still dealing with COVID, so we didn’t really have a real spring, but we had some spring.

Going into my senior season, somewhere down the line, the offense got switched up. It was a coaching staff [change], we had a switch at OC. The type of offense we wanted to run included the tight end. At the time, we didn’t have a tight end at Livingstone, and so me being me, and just being an athlete, being a big-bodied wide receiver that can run routes and that’s physical, they wanted me to give it a try. I didn’t want to be that guy, especially in my senior season, [who] argues with a coach or go back and forth with a coach and tell them [off]. That is not me. I just tried to make the situation work and everything, but it didn’t really go my way and go like I wanted it to go. I was blessed with the COVID year, so that gave me an extra year to go to grad school. I had a decision to make as far as what school to go to after that. That’s when I ended up making a decision to go to Johnson C. Smith. It’s in Charlotte, not too far from home. The system that was explained to me was perfect for me. I could fit right in, and plus, the Carolina Panthers are right around the corner, so I’m like, “I can definitely make this a fit. This would be a home for me. I love the campus and everything.”

The transition there to Johnson C. Smith was good, as well, but ran into some more eligibility complications, so that made me miss fall camp. I couldn’t really show the coaches what I could do. [I was] trying to fit in, come back and get into motion and everything. Once they got everything clear, it was kind of like a repeat of what happened at Livingstone. The OC and the head coach, they wanted to use like a tight end type of fit. They don’t have a legit tight end, so once again, I got back into the same situation, because they see my experience playing there at Livingstone, instead of realizing, you know, that guy’s a wide receiver. I got forced to play tight end once again. It’s the same situation. I made do once again, try to be a coachable player. [I] didn’t want to get into it back and forth with my coaches, so I just tried to make the best out of it once again, but it ended up turning into the situation I’m in now: just trying to get it back right, show scouts and really everyone here that I’m more than what they see on the film, and [turn] the situation out of a bad one.

JI: You’ve lined up plenty of positions during your time in college. Can you speak to what goes into developing that positional versatility?

DB: It gives me a big advantage, as far as me having to deal with big defensive ends and get physical with them. By them being 250, 260-plus [pounds] — big guys — it’ll make it way easier for me to deal with a DB, a safety. I know I can definitely be used in the blocking game — as well as the passing game — playing at wide receiver. It works to my advantage. On top of that, teams can bounce me around the whole field. Instead of being a three-point, hand-in-the-dirt tight end, they can probably put me inside, closer to where the tackles are, do some chip release blocks on d-ends and stuff like that. [They’ll be] able to use me all over the field as much they want.

JI: One could argue you played out of position. What’s the biggest thing you’re looking to prove at the next level, assuming you’re at wide receiver?

DB: The biggest thing that I want to prove is my speed, actually. I want to actually be able to show scouts and coaches at the next level that I’m actually a speedy guy. I’m not a 4.7, 4.6 type of guy. I want to be able to show them that I can get the ball in my hands and do something with it. I can make good plays, I can gain yards after the catch, I can take it distance. [I] really [want to] be able to show my natural instincts and really show them that I’m a legit wide receiver. That’s all I really want to show.

JI: I know the work you’ve put in to get to where you are and keep yourself afloat. Can you speak to that work ethic and how you’ve managed to keep pushing?

DB: It comes from really just everything I’ve been through, honestly, and it starts in the house. Being where I come from, the way I was raised, seeing my parents struggle, seeing my siblings struggle and work so hard. I know the type of ability I want. I know what I want out of my tools. I want to be the one that actually that’s able to put my people in a good position, like a better situation. Being told no, it never made me stop, never made me quit. It’s just a drive of not wanting to fail, not wanting to end up where I started from. That’s what my work comes from, because just want to become something. I want to be successful. I love to play this game. I got a lot of football left in me to play, so that self-determination, I got to get it by any means necessary, whether there’s somebody you know, want to train me, or I can do it myself. That’s my mindset. Either way it goes, I gotta accomplish what I’m trying to accomplish. I just can’t let the critics stop me. I can’t let the doors [that] close stop me. I gotta keep bouncing around to another door, going through the ones that I can go through and put it all in God’s hands. That’s where my work ethic comes from, that determination. I gotta make it.

JI: How do you spend your free time outside of football?

DB: I love listening to music. I like to cook, so I spend a lot of my time trying to learn recipes to cook, as far as meal preps. I like to research what’s good for my body. I do a lot of research, and really spending time with family. I just had a bundle of joy, so I like spending time with her. That’s what I love.

JI: What are your go-tos in the kitchen?

DB: It’s a simple dish, but definitely alfredo, because I’m a pasta kind of guy. I’ll do chicken alfredo, shrimp alfredo. I’m going to like lemon pepper chicken breasts, broccoli, mashed potatoes. Those are my go-tos. I gotta have those (laughs).

JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?

DB: A hard worker, somebody that can learn, somebody that brings a lot of energy. You’re getting a ball player, somebody that can make big plays, and be a great teammate, and a great coach: I can coach this game, I can help my teammates up, lift them up. [I’m an] all-around stand-up guy, from a football perspective and off the field. You just get an all-around great guy, somebody that can come through and make big plays ,and somebody that can that you can talk to, as well.

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