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Cover Story: Odell Beckham Jr. Wants His Son to Watch Him Shine

Odell Beckham Jr. has fame, fortune, and a Super Bowl ring. But being a father has given him new motivation to produce an electrifying season.

By: Clifton Brown

Being recognized wherever you go, front row seats at midcourt and hanging with A-list celebrities is the norm for Odell Beckham Jr. However, since his son Zydn entered the world, being a father for the first time has given Beckham a deep joy that fame, fortune and athletic achievement can't touch.

"Being a father has definitely settled him," said Beckham's mother, Heather Van Norman. "Zydn is like his light. He's always loved children. But being with Zydn brings out all the goodness in Odell. It's really fun to watch."

Entering his much-anticipated first season with the Ravens, Beckham hasn't played a game since his girlfriend, Lauren Wood, gave birth to Zydn 18 months ago, just four days after Beckham tore his ACL playing for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI.

During Beckham's long layoff from the NFL, it has taken tremendous physical effort through rehab and training to return his chiseled body to the world-class athletic level he expects. Beckham's career has been filled with emotional peaks and valleys and he has already decided that he doesn't want Zydn to play football.

However, before he leaves the game, Beckham wants Zydn to know that his daddy is still one of the baddest wide receivers who ever played. For Beckham, that's a big part of what's going on this year. He's doing it for himself. He's doing it for the Ravens. And a piece of his heart is doing it for Zydn, even though he's still too young to comprehend everything that's going on.

"I have a son now, I have a legacy," Beckham said. "He's impacted me in ways as a man, and as a person, that I could've never imagined. I just know I'm going to make him proud."

'You Don't Lose Route Running'

Zydn doesn't know about his father's five 1,000-yard seasons, his spectacular catches, his precise route-running that can make opposing cornerbacks take a knee. Major injuries have stolen a significant part of Beckham's career – including a fractured ankle in 2017 and a torn ACL in 2020.

However, Beckham feels all the way back at age 30, and it has looked that way during training camp, where Beckham has chemistry with Lamar Jackson that will be crucial to Baltimore's offense.

New Ravens Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken coached Beckham in 2019 as coordinator with the Browns and is thrilled they are reunited. Could Monken tell with his naked eye that Beckham is coming off knee surgery if he didn't know it?

"No, you can't tell," Monken said. "And you don't lose craftiness. You may lose a little bit of top-end speed, as you get older, but you don't lose route-running.

"He definitely sees the game, processes it. He's a very astute football player. He sees coverages. He sets defenders up. He has elite body control. Once he knows how he wants to run a route, he's got the advantage."

Check out the top shots of new WR Odell Beckham Jr. at 2023 Ravens training camp.

'Odell Is One of Those Guys'

The last time Beckham played an NFL game, he was in the zone, giving the Bengals fits on the game's biggest stage. He scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl LVI on a 17-yard pass from Matthew Stafford and made a catch for 35 yards in the second quarter that led to another touchdown drive.

Beckham may have been the MVP of that Super Bowl if not for the devastating second-quarter knee injury. Former Ravens safety Eric Weddle was Beckham's teammate on that Super Bowl-winning Rams team, and moments before kickoff, Weddle and Beckham shared a special moment on the sideline that exemplified how much respect Weddle has for Beckham as a player and person.

Weddle believes Beckham will be a great fit in the Ravens' locker room, even with his superstar aura. He has unique physical gifts, including enormous hands that enable him to snare a football like it's a sponge. Weddle wishes people would pay less attention to Beckham's celebrity, and more attention to his devotion to his craft.

"Odell is a perfect example of perception versus reality," Weddle said. "He's full of personality, energy and charisma. He's one of the hardest-working guys on the practice field that I've ever been involved with. The great players in the league love to practice and compete. That's what separates guys in my opinion. The great ones love to grind.

"It's a lot like when Steve Smith came to the Ravens. When you bring in a vet that's a high-level, talented dude that can win one-on-one matchups at any moment, it's calming to the quarterback. If you get the coverage you want, you know where you're going with the ball. There is no thinking at that point. That's the difference between a bona fide star and other guys.

"Everyone's good in the league, I'm not disrespecting anyone. But schematically, there are certain guys that you have to do special things for. That's just reality. Odell is one of those guys. I know he hasn't played in a minute, and he's still got to prove it. But what a great place to do that, in a great organization, with Lamar and a Pro Bowl tight end in Mark Andrews and other weapons. I can't wait to see what he does."

The Ravens Made Him Feel Wanted

Beckham's return to the NFL is the kind of script that seems suited for Hollywood or New York, but it will play out in Baltimore and Beckham is thrilled with his decision to sign with the Ravens in March.

The chance to team with Jackson is just one factor that drew Beckham to Baltimore. He was strongly considering signing with the Jets, returning to the city where he began his career with the Giants. But after meeting with General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh at the League Meetings in Phoenix, Beckham began feeling that Baltimore was the right fit. That belief was reinforced during phone conversations with Owner Steve Bisciotti.

"My initial reaction when I heard Baltimore was interested was like, 'No way,'" Beckham said. "I've gone against Baltimore many times. I don't want to say there was beef, but it was definitely, 'You want to kick that team's ass.'

"But they won me over quickly. Other places, it kind of felt like 'We would love to have you.' Of course, they would. But it wasn't like, 'We see you as a guy who could make a difference here.' Coming back to New York (Jets) would've been cool. I know it would've been less money, but I can make money off the field, I know what New York brings. But it just didn't feel like, 'We absolutely want you here.' That's the feeling I got from this place. I was just happy I was able to listen to them and to God."

Would Beckam have chosen the Ravens over playing for New York when he was much younger?

"I doubt it," Beckham said. "But that's just life. Maturity. Experience. Things that happen to you. Either you humble yourself, or life's going to humble you. And in my life, I've been humbled. Those lessons have made me the man I am today.

"Everyone thinks it's the money I got from the Ravens. I could play for $1 million. It doesn't impact my mindset. If I drop a pass, I'm going to be pissed the same way I'd be if I made $40 million. But the Ravens showed they valued me. Go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated."

Odell-Lamar Connection is Key

How Beckham and Jackson click both on the field and as teammates will be a major storyline during the season, and Beckham has nothing but high praise for his new quarterback. He sees many similarities between them – highly competitive and constantly under the microscope.

Beckham has great respect for Jackson and feels their bond getting stronger every day. He reflected on a night this spring when they had dinner together in South Florida after Beckham had signed his contract but Jackson had not yet agreed to his five-year contract extension.

"He hadn't signed yet, but we were sitting there talking about the things we wanted to do," Beckham said. "He's a really good man. I'm sure he's more quiet with the media, but he's hilarious, and he loves ball, and he loves winning. He wants to win a championship. You can see it written all over him, the sheer determination to be great.

"I know we haven't played a game yet, but I can just see great things, knowing it's going to take a lot of hard work. I have to put myself in a position where he can trust me, and I embrace that challenge. I want him to know he can rely on me. That's very big for me."

The Spotlight Found Him

Whatever Beckham does this season will draw attention. "The Catch" skyrocketed his fame, turning him into what Jackson often calls, "a household name".

Beckham doesn't hide that he's an entertainer who loves playing to the crowd. When kids screamed "Odell" every day at training camp, he smiled and waved, making their day by acknowledging them. When music blares over the loudspeaker at practice, he often danced.

That's Beckham being himself, and his charisma would be difficult to turn off even if he wanted to. He has learned to deal with the perks and pitfalls of being one of the world's most recognizable athletes.

"It's a blessing and a curse," Beckham said. "I would love to go into CVS and get some sour patch straws and not have anyone know me, but that's probably not happening. Now that (Tom) Brady's gone, there's probably nobody in the NFL that's more recognizable than I am. That came with a lot of hard work. It's a blessing to be able to go anywhere and be recognized, but with it comes major responsibility. I can't do everything that anyone else does. I've got to move accordingly."

Beckham had a typical whirlwind offseason – courtside at numerous NBA playoff games, Kylie Minogue's birthday party in Monoco, Michael Rubin's White Party in the Hamptons, DJ Khaled's Golf Event in Miami to name a few stops. His fame allows him to go places you can't and meet people you won't. He's such a celebrity that celebrities want to meet him.

Odell Beckham Jr. with Celebrities

But don't get it twisted. Wherever he was during the offseason, Beckham was working and keeping himself in tip-top shape. He's content knowing that he doesn't cheat his dedication, and people who know him best swear by his work ethic, sincerity and devotion to his family and friends.

"Believe or not, Odell was a soft-spoken guy in high school," said Nelson Stewart, longtime head coach at Isidore Newman (New Orleans) High School where Beckham played. "He didn't seek out the spotlight. He hated doing interviews. He liked to just be a guy in the locker room. Everybody liked him. I feel like the spotlight found him, he didn't chase it.

"Did I see the celebrity part coming? No. But there's just no half-speed with Odell Once he wants to do something, he's all in. If he wants to go to Europe, he'll do it. Fashion, tattoos, world travel, you name it. That's part of the magic of him. But I'm so proud of him. He's earned everything he's gotten."

A look at Odell Beckham Jr., from childhood to fatherhood, courtesy of photos from his mother, Heather Van Norman.

Ready for the Show

The Ravens have had many big personalities in their history who have flourished, and Van Norman senses that her son is extremely happy with his new surroundings and teammates. Finding a comfort zone in Baltimore has come quickly.

"He's never wanted to be put in a box," Van Norman said. "He doesn't want to be generalized. He appreciates being unique and people respecting that.

"He's doing something that he loves to do and has loved for so long. I asked him often after he hurt his knee this last time: 'What do you want to do? You don't have to play football.' But he really wanted to come back. He's really still in love with football and wants to do it in Baltimore."

Beckham isn't sure how much longer he wants to play, but when healthy he has put up Hall of Fame-type numbers. He ranked No. 1 in NFL history in yards per game (92.9) through the first 62 games of his career.

But at this stage, Beckham sees a bigger role than just making plays. He wants to be a mentor to young teammates such as rookie Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay, showing them what it takes to be a great receiver. Monken can already see Beckham's influence paying off in meetings and on the field.

"Those guys may listen to me, but they want to be like him," Monken said. "He leads them by example."

Beckham wants to do the same for Zydn. When his son attended the first practice of training camp, Beckham posted the visit on Instagram and wrote about how much it meant to have his son there.

Beckham is at peace, but he's driven. Living in Phoenix will make it tough for Zydn to make every game, but Beckham said he will attend as many as possible. Being a father, playing for the Ravens, being teammates with Jackson feels right. Healthy, happy and hungry, Beckham plans to show the world he's still got "it," with a front row seat reserved for Zydn.

"Sure, there's a little Revenge Tour feeling I have coming into this year," Beckham said. "I wish I could've been healthy my whole career, to show people I was one of the best to have ever done it. Maybe that wasn't in God's plan, but I'm just rocking with this and seeing what He's got for me.

"Zydn may not remember, but I want to make new memories for us. I don't want him to just hear stories about his father. I want him to see what his pops does, know that his pops works hard. I'm going to be playing for far more than just myself."

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