It is predawn on Thursday, Oct. 16, as Chargers scout Jeff Beathard makes his way to the Syracuse football office. As one of four San Diego scouts—teams employ anywhere from one to 10—Beathard is accustomed to operating in the dark. He often rises before the sun and spends most days in an unlit room breaking down film. Then it's off to another college town. "The travel wears you down, and the job has a high divorce rate," says Beathard, 33, who is divorced. "Still, most of us really love what we do. Go figure."
Already this week Beathard, the son of Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, has traveled 1,700 miles. On Monday he left his home in Broad Run, Va., for two days of work at Florida State. On Wednesday morning he moved on to Florida A&M, and 15 hours later he arrived in Syracuse, N.Y.
Now Beathard is lugging his 30-pound backpack, loaded with media guides, notebooks and scouting reports, into Manley Field House. He is led to a 15-by-30-foot room cluttered with televisions, tapes and desks. Beathard takes out a stack of one-page evaluation forms, stuffs some chewing tobacco into his mouth and shoves a tape of the Orangemen offense into a VCR. It is 7:52 a.m.
The second of three Chargers scouts who will visit Syracuse, Beathard will rate about a dozen players before his day is done. On the top of each form, he fills in a player's raw data—height, weight, age, etc.—and below that he is asked to evaluate the prospect in seven areas: mental, position instincts, personal character, football character, competitiveness and toughness, strength and explosion, and athletic ability. At the bottom of the page Beathard summarizes his findings and ranks the player on a scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being a "star" and 1 being a "reject." He will forward a carbon of each form to the front office, and the scouting staff will convene later to assess each player's draft value.
Clicker in hand, Beathard runs the game tape backward and forward with amazing alacrity. Film is brutally honest, so on one play, a prospect's stock can rise or drop sharply. A few minutes into the first tape, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron walks into the room. Over the next 15 minutes Beathard picks Orgeron's brain. Beathard is most interested in what the coach has to say about a player's character and injury history, the two toughest things for a scout to evaluate.
Beathard watches tape for four hours. Lunch comes from an early supply of Halloween candy as he visits with Don Lowe, the team's coordinator for sports medicine. In the afternoon he watches practice and interviews players.
Later Beathard races out the door, hoping to make a flight home so he can see how San Diego rookies such as tight end Freddie Jones and linebacker Toran James fare in a game that night against the Chiefs. On his way out he passes a Syracuse player.
"You a senior?" he asks.
"Nope," replies the player.
"Never mind then," says Beathard, rushing to his car.