116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City Liberty’s football season started with questions at quarterback.
Graham Beckman provided the necessary answers that Lightning Coach James Harris thought was possible.
“I wrote that our biggest unknown was our quarterback position, but it could become our biggest strength,” Harris said of his preseason analysis. “Obviously, you don’t know until you see him. I had a feeling he was someone we could lean on.”
Beckman responded to his chance as a starter, leading Liberty to a 2-0 record and No. 6 ranking in The Gazette’s Class 4A poll before Friday’s game at Western Dubuque. He ranks among the 4A leaders in most passing categories.
The junior signal caller laughed and said he would have called someone crazy if they predicted his production his first two games — 562 yards, five touchdowns and 139 QB rating, while completing 39 of 62 passes without an interception.
“I had high expectations for myself, knowing that we could be pretty good this year,” said Beckman, who passed for 184 yards on 13-of-15 passing as a sophomore. “Throwing for over 500 yards in two games wasn’t quite at the level I was expecting. It’s great and I love where I’m at.”
The numbers are impressive, even if you don’t consider the circumstances. Beckman faced two ranked 5A teams to begin the season. His first varsity start was against crosstown rival Iowa City High in a trophy game held at a big-time college stadium with an estimated 10,000 fans in the stands.
The result was 281 offensive yards and four TDs, including 234 and three passing, in a 36-19 victory.
“Honestly, it was kind of mind-blowing knowing that I was going to be able to have my first high school start be at Kinnick (Stadium),” Beckman said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a high school game.
“I was nervous most of the week, but when we started warming up it kind of all went away. I was able to just focus on the game and let everything around me go away.”
Harris praised his ability to lead the Lightning down the field and score in three straight drives against the Little Hawks. Beckman has played at a high level with composure. He has a knack for playing his best when Friday night’s lights are their brightest, according to Harris.
“It’s just going out there, having fun and knowing what you can do,” Beckman said. “You’re able to throw the ball around and let guys make plays. Just have fun and compete.”
Harris noted that Beckman possesses a drive to be the best. He is always working “to be great,” whether it is being one of the first to arrive at the weight room for football workouts or asking basketball coaches for open gym times to shoot.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he has the size to play quarterback. He has the strength and toughness to play linebacker as well, astounding Harris by front-squatting 315 pounds four times in the spring. Those traits allow for a versatile attack.
“For me, his ability to be a dual threat, especially at the high school level, is big stuff,” Harris said. “You can be an accurate QB and run the ball, too, that’s really good.”
In last week’s 25-14 win over Linn-Mar, Beckman tallied 366 yards and three scores with 328 and two through the air. He sits second in 4A in yards, third in completions, tied for third in TD passes and fifth in QB rating. His 62.9 completion percentage is eighth for quarterbacks with at least six completions.
“It’s been great,” Harris said. “He’s a gamer. I think he’s more accurate in games than he is in practice. His deep-ball accuracy in games has been really good. I’ve been impressed with that and his ability to understand the game.”
Beckman, a member of the National Honor Society, has a strong football acumen. He has studied the game. He can identify reads and recognize where to deliver the ball. Offseason work with offensive coordinator Scott Chandler and quarterbacks coach Mitch Wieland was a big reason.
“Over the summer, they really helped me see everything,” Beckman said. “The game really slowed down. I can just play and not be so nervous.”
Liberty has the benefit of experienced targets to throw the ball. Eight Lightning players have caught at least one pass, including six seniors. Christian Barney leads the team in receptions (12), yards (140) and TDs (2). Lucas Meyer has 135 yards on seven catches and a score. Garrett Gregoire adds eight catches for 118 yards with a TD.
Beckman is quick to credit them, relying on the rapport built over many years playing football together.
“You’ve known them most of your life and a lot of it has to do with trust,” Beckman said. “If you can trust your receivers to go and make plays, then I’ll throw them the ball and see what they can do.”
The plan each week is to absorb each game, enjoying the wins for a day before shifting focus to the next opponent. The goal is to improve every week, which could mean bad news for foes.
“I have a lot of faith he’s going to stay true to the process, working to keep getting better,” Harris said of Beckman. “He’s just a humble and hungry kid.”