ANDERSON — Entering the sectional championship game, Jerian Beard was well aware of Cathedral's Terry McLaurin. And the Anderson senior's focus was making sure McLaurin became aware of him as well.
After a week on intense preparation, Beard held Indiana's Mr. Football award winner to just one reception on seven targets.
Not bad for a running back who gained 2,205 yards in three varsity seasons and didn't play defensive back before August.
"I think he's really better on defense," Anderson coach Randy Albano said. "After watching him cover the kid from Cathedral, I'd think he could cover about anybody."
McLaurin is heading to Ohio State after catching 97 passes for 1,911 yards and 22 touchdowns during his high school career. He played just 2 1/2 quarters against the Indians, and the Irish — with a host of other weapons — cruised to a 56-13 victory.
But Beard held his own against the state's most explosive offensive star. That might have come as a surprise to some, but not to the Anderson standout.
"I wasn't scared, I know that," he said. "He had the big talk going into the offseason, and I respect him as a player. But I respect myself, too. I knew he was good, but I'm going to always bring my 'A' game."
Injuries to his knee and ankle limited Beard to just seven games this season. And, all the while, he was learning a new position.
He'd been an outside linebacker for the Indians as a sophomore but played exclusively on offense during his junior season. Graduation losses in the defensive backfield convinced Albano to move Beard to safety this summer. When injuries depleted the depth chart at cornerback, Beard moved again.
He made 38 tackles, four for a loss, and had one interception en route to all-state recognition from the Indiana Football Coaches Association. He's also been named The 2013 Herald Bulletin Football Defensive Athlete of the Year.
"The big thing about him, he worked hard in the offseason to make himself better and make himself stronger and faster," Albano said.
And he did it all after being diagnosed with diabetes last winter.
Beard learned to regulate the disease as a reserve for the boys basketball team last spring, and he said it only really caused a problem once all season. Anderson played a Saturday afternoon game at New Castle on Sept. 28, and the change in his routine threw Beard's blood-sugar levels off.
He left that game just before halftime and later said he was running without his usual energy. It made little difference as the Indians rolled to a 49-7 win.
He made no other concessions to his condition, and in fact is working harder on his body than ever before. After attending a camp last summer, Beard noticed how much stronger players who focused on football year round seemed to be.
So he made a decision to forgo his senior season on the basketball court and hit the weights instead this winter. He's working out twice a day every day and getting into the best football shape of his life.
Beard can squat 595 pounds 10 times, as good a testament as any to his strength.
Colleges are taking notice with interest rolling in from Ball State, Bowling Green and Cincinnati. He's also drawn strong attention from Div. II schools Indianapolis and Finlay, though no offers have yet been made.
Albano believes Beard's future lies on defense. But the player is keeping all of his options open.
"I'm just gonna go in as an athlete," he said. "I'll play anywhere they want me to play."
Athletes of the Year Anderson's Jerian Beard is the eighth of nine fall athletes to be honored as the best in their sport by The Herald Bulletin. The ninth and final athlete will be revealed in Thursday's edition. For stories on the previous award winners, visit theheraldbulletin.com Defensive Football Honor Roll Quin Alverson, Pendleton Heights; Zach Amos, Anderson; Jim Arney, Pendleton Heights; Gage Brown, Elwood; Derek Bryant, Elwood; Cody Cochran, Pendleton Heights; Ryan French, Elwood; Evan Hodges, Alexandria; Mason Hoke, Alexandria; Rome Kayzer, Anderson; London Leavell, Elwood; Stephen Marshall, Shenandoah; Bryce Montgomery, Alexandria; Bobby Pierce, Shenandoah; Curt Presnall, Madison-Grant; Austin Purkey, Madison-Grant; Cody Rudy, Shenandoah; Jacob Thurston, Alexandria; Colton Waymire, Frankton; Bryant White, Anderson; Lane Young, Shenandoah