Bowling Green local Beard making his own WKU legacy

Senior defensive back Ryan Beard, in his fifth year playing for WKU, is a Bowling Green native following in the footsteps of cousin Patrick Reynolds, a member of the Toppers’ 2002 I-AA national championship team. 

Brad Stephens

For many Topper athletes, WKU is a place to get an education and play sports.

For senior defensive back Ryan Beard, WKU is a lifelong passion and a dream fulfilled.

In an era where most Topper football players come from other states, Beard’s case has become the exception.

Beard grew up in Bowling Green, regularly attending WKU football games.

He would come to Smith Stadium to cheer on his cousin, Patrick Reynolds, a key player on the Toppers’ 2002 I-AA national championship team.

And after a standout career at Bowling Green High School, Beard chose to keep with the family tradition and sign to play for the hometown Toppers.

“I’m a big family guy. I like being around my family, and that was huge in my decision,” Beard said. “I’ve got a lot of local friends I still run around with, so that was a big part of my decision.”

Beard’s arrival on campus in 2007 coincided with the beginning of WKU’s transition from Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision) to I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision.)

Four years (including a redshirt season in 2007) and three games later, Beard has seen the program endure a coaching staff overhaul, a 26-game losing streak and other growing pains in the Toppers’ transition to college football’s top flight.

“It’s been a wild ride to say the least. We’ve come a long way,” Beard said. “From the players we have to the staff we have, there’s been a ton of changes, but I think everything’s been for the better and that we’re on the right track.”

In this tumultuous era of WKU football, Beard has been one of the team’s rare mainstays.

He started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, collecting a team-high three interceptions.

Beard played just two games in 2009 due to injuries but came back in 2010 to post 71 tackles — the second-highest total on the team.

Coming up from the secondary to collect those tackles has been one of his trademarks as a Topper.

Sophomore cornerback Tyree Robinson spoke of a play in WKU’s Sept. 10 loss to Navy in which Beard sustained a bloody lip and forehead after being hit on a hard block. 

Robinson said Beard took a towel from a manager, wiped off the blood and went back onto the field.

“He goes hard every play,” Robinson said. “I respect him for that.”

First-year defensive backs coach Alonzo Hampton recalled the same play, saying Beard was “hit so hard I felt bad for him.”

“That guy came out one play, went and wiped it off and played the rest of the game,” Hampton said. “We talk about being blue collar. Ryan Beard is setting the example for these younger guys to follow.”

Beard may get some of his blue-collar mentality from Reynolds, who he described as a “smash-mouth guy” during his playing days.

“He gave everything he had every play and that’s what you come to expect from a Western defense,” Beard said. “That’s what I’m trying to instill in our younger guys, and that’s what we need to get back to.”

Of course, Reynolds’ career included the Toppers’ national championship.

Beard said he also has championship aspirations of his own — winning the school’s first-ever Sun Belt Conference championship.

It would bring full-circle the career of a local kid living his dream.

“Bowling Green itself means so much to me, and so does Western Kentucky University,” Beard said. “Through all of the adversity, the loyal fans have still backed the football team 100 percent.

“That helps me know I made the right choice by coming here.”