Greg Hansen: Unselfish Beirne completes TD, 'amazing story'

2011-11-25T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Unselfish Beirne completes TD, 'amazing story'Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 25, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Every Thursday during Arizona's football season, quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo gathers with Nick Foles, Matt Scott and Bryson Beirne and gives them a card, an envelope and simple instructions.

Write a letter to your mother.

"I put on the stamp,'' says Scelfo. "They put in the love."

But this week, Thanksgiving weekend, Scelfo didn't give his quarterbacks a card. He wrote the letters himself. The words flowed.

"Coaching a young man like Bryson is the reason I coach football. You have raised an awesome son. He is what makes college football worthwhile."

Bryson Beirne has thrown 17 passes in five years at Arizona. Until last week, he got more attention for growing a massive, 1970s-type Afro, than for anything he did on the football field.

Do you know why he grew his hair so long? It was a tribute to his late great-grandmother, Ka Hale Lelua - he calls her Tutu - who was among the native families who struggled for acceptance during the Americanization of Hawaii.

"I smile every time I hear about Bryson," says North Texas offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who recruited Beirne to Arizona in the summer of 2006. "I knew he would be mature enough to handle any situation out there."

Indeed, Beirne bumped into "any situation" so often that it sometimes seemed unfair.

During Beirne's UA days, the two most prolific quarterbacks in school history, Willie Tuitama and Nick Foles, have thrown for a combined 18,870 yards. Beirne has thrown for 127.

A third, Matt Scott, has been the QB-in-waiting since 2008. Beirne has been the QB-in-deep storage. He might've gone to established winners Oregon State or Cal, who invited him to their QB camps before his senior season at Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu. But he chose Arizona. Why?

"I liked the idea of building something," he says. "Something pulled me to Tucson, something that hasn't yet been revealed to me."

Beirne sat but didn't stew. He earned his degree in four years, in family studies/human development. He became one of the few football players in school history accepted to the acclaimed Eller College of Management. When his MBA is completed next year, he is likely to return to Honolulu to help steer Polynesian teens to a life of education.

He has a girlfriend, six-time UA All-America swimmer Sarah Denninghoff, a Sabino High grad who, like Beirne, is active in the LDS church.

"I don't have much free time in the day," he says. "School is challenging and so is football. When I get home, if I sit down by 10 at night, I'm pretty much beat. I've got a good work ethic, which I attribute to my mom and dad. They've taught me to keep my head down, keep working and don't mouth off. They taught me to do the right thing."

Rather than rebel about being a career No. 3 quarterback, rather than leave Arizona with a bitter taste, Beirne made it his mission to beat the system rather than let it beat him up. Football would not define him.

A few months ago, he tore up the ACL in his right knee during training camp at Fort Huachuca. He eschewed immediate surgery because Arizona would have no true backup to Foles. (Scott would be redshirted for 2012.) Beirne would bear the pain, limping around in a knee brace, prepared to play every week in the event Foles got hurt.

"Bryson did the extra work and gutted it out," say Scelfo. "He wasn't going to give up his senior year. Whatever adversity he faced, it beat it."

With 6:10 remaining in Saturday's Territorial Cup at Arizona State, trailing 27-24, Foles pulled a muscle in his back and could not continue. This would be the defining moment of Beirne's college football career.

"I looked in his eyes," says Scelfo. "He was not intimidated. He said, 'Man, let's go win this thing.'"

And that's exactly what Beirne did.

On his second play, he tossed a swing pass into traffic to Juron Criner, who caught the ball and maneuvered 23 yards through heavy traffic for a touchdown. Arizona stunned ASU 31-27.

Beirne didn't dance or posture. He went back to the bench and said a silent prayer.

"I'll always be a Wildcat," he says. "I'm deeply connected with this school and I wouldn't turn anything back about my years here. I didn't need to have any validation on the field to be happy. I stuck it out because it's right."

The most unlikely man on the roster became The Man of the Territorial Cup.

He got congratulatory calls from everyone. The dean of the Eller College reached him. Back in Denton, Texas, Canales heard the happy news.

"Amazing story," Canales says. "I'm so happy for Bryson."

Beirne will be in uniform for the last time Saturday. If Foles plays, Beirne may not throw another pass or take a meaningful snap. But that's OK. His last pass was his best pass.

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