FRUITPORT – On one hand, Fruitport’s Kayden Beardsley is that super intense football player who wants to excel on both sides of the ball and hates to come off the field.
In that respect, the 2023 season was tailor-made for Beardsley, who established himself as a defensive standout last year, and has already had success as his team’s new featured running back this season.
Simply put, Beardsley is a talented, tireless football machine.
“He stands out when you watch the tapes – the effort he makes, the extra gear he brings to the table,” said Fruitport head coach Nate Smith. “His performance is pretty elite.”
But there’s also another side to Beardsley – a more laid-back, mature young man who casts a positive light on the football program in other important ways.
A good example came last school year when Coach Smith heard about a young middle school student who was struggling with some behavioral issues, and just happened to be a football fan.
He asked Beardsley to make a connection with the boy, do a bit of mentoring and see if he could make a difference.
Beardsley happily accepted the assignment and enjoyed becoming friends with the younger student.
“Coach Smith asked me to kind of mentor this kid, and I wanted to do it,” Beardsley said. “He’s a cool kid and he likes football. We would just hang out and talk about stuff. I think he enjoyed having me there and I enjoyed it, too. It was a good opportunity for me to go talk to someone who needed someone to talk to. It was awesome.”
A few years ago, it was the intense, super competitive side of Beardsley that first caught Smith’s attention.
“He was in eighth-grade wrestling, I was there watching, I asked the coach who that kid was, then I walked over to him and told him he needed to play football,” Smith said.
Four years later, everyone can see why Smith was so excited about Beardsley, who plays beyond his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame.
He emerged as a defensive force as a junior, earning All-Conference honors as a starting safety. He was fourth on the team with 59 tackles while posting two sacks, two interceptions and four pass breakups.
His performance helped the Trojans to an 8-3 record and win a share of the O-K Blue conference championship.
This year Beardsley added a big role on offense, becoming the starting tailback following the graduation of All-Stater Paschal Jolman.
Those were very big shoes to fill, because Jolman dazzled everyone by gaining 2,224 yards with 25 touchdowns last year, but Beardsley has already shown he is up to the task.
The best game was in Week 2 against Grand Rapids Christian, when he rushed for 130 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown burst, while also leading the Trojan defense with six tackles.
He also had a good game last Friday against Hamilton, when he had a 25-yard touchdown catch and was second on the team with four tackles.
Smith likes the way Beardsley runs the ball and expects him to have more big offensive games as the season goes on.
“He’s explosive,” the coach said. “He gets to his top speed very quickly, once he makes that decision about where he is going. He doesn’t dance around a lot. He will make one cut, then it’s straight-line acceleration.”
Beardsley said he loves having the opportunity to have a big impact on offense and defense.
He admits he was a little nervous taking over at running back for Jolman, but wanted to do it “If it can help out the team a lot.”
He says he still probably enjoys playing defense a little more, because “I like hitting people a little better.”
As far as being able to stay on the field and go 100 percent the whole game, Beardsley said, “I don’t get tired. I’m in pretty good condition and I don’t like coming off.”
Even more impressive, perhaps, is Beardsley’s overall attitude about how the season has developed so far – the positives and negatives.
When asked about his big game against GR Christian, Beardsley passed along the credit, saying “Our O-line played really well that night.”
When asked about Game 1, when he only touched the ball four times and gained six yards against Kenowa Hills, he said “It doesn’t matter whether I get touches or not. We just have to get things rolling. That’s all I care about.”
The Trojans did not expect to be 0-3 at this point in the season, and such a rough start might get some players down, but Beardsley says there’s still a lot of potential for good things to happen.
“In practice we’re just putting our heads down and trying to get better each and every day,” he said. “If we can find our rhythm and keep coming together, we can still do some things, for sure.”
That’s the calm, mature side of Beardsley that Smith has come to appreciate.
“He’s a kid who has a really good perspective and can see the potential in people,” the coach said. “When we talk about having a player-led team, that’s what we’re talking about.
“He’s athletic, good in the classroom and a genuine person who wants to invest in other people and help them grow. He’s going to accomplish a lot of great things in the coming years, that’s for sure.”