The Atlanta Falcons are headed to Super Bowl 51 for the second time in the franchise’s 51-year history. Super Bowl 51 will be held at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 5 live in prime time on FOX.
The pre-game show kicks off at 2 p.m. EST and runs for four and a half hours until the coin toss.
This year’s Super Bowl is headlined by the two prominent names left at the top of the bracket: four-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, the latter of which is experiencing what could be its greatest season in franchise history.
Heavy.com is profiling many of the players who will hear their names called in the NFL’s biggest game, including Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr.
Beasley is the league’s top pass rusher and sack leader for the 2016 season. Here is what else you need to know:
1. Beasley Was a Three-Sport Standout & a Four-Star Recruit Out of High School
Beasley was born July 8, 1992, in Adairsville, Georgia. He attended Adairsville High School, where he was a three-sport standout in football, basketball and track. Beasley was named all-county and all-area in both his junior and seniors seasons in football, and he placed second in triple jump and third in high jump at the 2010 GHSAA Regional 7-AA track and field championships.
He played as a running back and linebacker for the Adairsville Tigers high school football team. As a junior, he totaled 57 tackles, recovered two fumbles and caught an interception while also hauling in 15 receptions for over 200 yards. As a senior, he had 120 rushes for 828 yards with seven touchdowns on offense, and had 102 tackles (12 for a loss) and an interception on the defensive side of the ball.
In addition, he also had seven punt returns for a 17.3-yard average and two touchdowns, and returned only one kickoff his senior year but returned it 80 yards for a score. He was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press and the Georgia Sportswriters Association.
Considered a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, Beasley was rated the No. 16 athlete in the nation in 2010. He was rated the No. 37 athlete in the nation and No. 37 player in Georgia by Rivals.com, and the No. 34 outside linebacker in the nation and No. 37 player in Georgia that same year by Scout.com.
Coached by Jim Kremer at Adairsville, he was recruited by Billy Napier and chose Clemson over Alabama, Auburn and Stanford.
2. He Was an All-American at Clemson & His College Roommate Kept a ‘Wall of Sacks’
Beasley redshirted his freshman year at Clemson due to an injury and began working out as a tight end. Due to his size and speed, he was used as a scout team quarterback as a redshirt. Due to lengthening his period of NCAA eligibility, Beasley only recorded two tackles in 16 snaps during his freshman year.
In 2012, he recorded 18 tackles and a team-high eight sacks as sophomore. Beasley was also named an honorable mention sophomore All-American by College Football News that same year. Through the first half-dozen games of his junior 2013 season, he led the NCAA in sacks with 13.
Beasley was named a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) selection and first-team All-American by the Associated Press. That year, Clemson upset the then-#6 ranked Ohio State in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Beasley opted to stay his senior year to finish his degree in sociology instead of declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft, although he was projected to be drafted in the second round by the NFL’s draft advisory board.
He entered 2014 with 21 career sacks, just seven sacks shy of setting Clemson’s all-time sack record set by Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams at 28.
His Clemson roommate, Nick Yarid, helped Beasley make the decision to pass up the 2014 NFL Draft by keeping a “wall of sacks,” which he photographed, framed and hung up pictures of each sack on his off-campus apartment wall.
That October, Beasley beat Perry and Adams’ sack record and set Clemson’s current record at 33 career sacks. He was named ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and was again selected as an All-American for the third time in 2014.
3. He Lost His Brother, Father & Uncle All in the Same Year
Beasley lost his 40-year-old half-brother Tyrone Barrett, whom he was extremely close to, in a car accident on Feb. 1, 2014, near their hometown of Adairsville, Georgia. His uncle, a pastor who had great influence on Beasley, died a few months later due to cancer.
His father Vic Beasley Sr, a Auburn alumni and a former teammate of Bo Jackson’s in the mid-1980s, struggled with alcohol addiction throughout his son’s college career and was eventually diagnosed with cirrhosis.
His senior year at Clemson, Beasley added the suffix “Jr.” to his jersey’s nameplate to honor of his father. Later that April, Beasley’s father fell ill and died at age 53.
Beasley credits his faith to helping him persevere through the difficult time period, and he kept his “Beasley Jr.” nameplate once he was drafted into the NFL.
4. He Was Selected Eighth in the First-Round of 2015 Draft & Signed a Four-Year, $14.5 Million Contract
Beasley was selected eighth in the first-round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons for a whopping four-year, $14.5 million deal; including a $8.8 million signing bonus and an average annual salary of $3.6 million.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock called Beasley: “The Most Ready Pass Rusher in the Draft.” Beasley was profiled as the most pro-ready pass-rusher, with teams privately gushing over his ability to carry speed at the 2015 NFL Combine to go along with his extra weight.
5. He Was Named to his First Pro Bowl and Received All-Pro Honors, & Led the League in Sacks and Pass Rushing in 2016
In Week 2 of his rookie season, Beasley recorded his first NFL sack taking down New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He recorded his second sack just one week later against Brandon Weeden, a backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
In Week 16, and in the final minutes of the game, Beasley strip-sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to ruin the Panther’s undefeated season.
In 2016, Beasley made the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. It only took him until Week 2 to record his first sack of the season against the Oakland Raiders. His break-out game came in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos, where he recorded eight tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
He ended 2016 with a league-leading 15.5 sacks and is considered one of the NFL’s best pass rushers of the season.
Due to his stellar breakout season, Beasley was named first-team All-Pro along with fellow Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and was selected to his first Pro Bowl but he was unable to attend due to the Falcons making Super Bowl 51.