The last thing Vic Beasley expected when he arrived at Clemson four years ago is that he'd be entering his senior season as an All-America defensive end.
He expected to be a running back or a tight end, for which his frame appeared well-suited, or maybe even a safety like his dad, Victor Sr., who played at Auburn for Pat Dye in the 1980s.
"I'd never even thought about it," said Beasley recently of the niche he found. "Being a defensive end had never crossed my mind."
It did, however, occur to Dabo Swinney; but only after Beasley had spent his first year and half of college wandering from position to position, without finding a fit.
"What I kept seeing in Vic was that we didn't have a better athlete on the team, with his great length and strength and quickness and the ability to change direction suddenly," Swinney said.
So before the 2012 season, Swinney came to Beasley with a proposition: commit himself for three months to learning, playing and developing as a defensive end. If it didn't work out, Swinney promised Beasley a chance to move to running back for his final two seasons.
The move was a hit.
Playing as a backup and a speed-rush specialist, Beasley led the Tigers in sacks as a sophomore with eight, and, having finally found a home on the field, dedicated himself in the offseason to becoming an every-down defensive end.
He emerged this past season as one of college football's best, racking up 23 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback sacks, and earning second-team All-America honors.
Tabbed with a second-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, and projected by some analysts as a late first-rounder, Beasley went down to the wire weighing his options before announcing Wednesday evening that he'll return to Clemson for his senior year.
His somewhat surprising decision was greeted with delight by his teammates and fans, and caught the attention of more than one member of the national media.
“Clemson's defense might be the ACC's best next year,” ESPN analyst David Pollack tweeted.
“Guys like Beasley who come out of nowhere and have a monster year almost always capitalize and go pro,” wrote USA Today's Dan Wolken.
“Beasley received a second-round grade, but it's doubtful he would have fallen out of the top 32,” said CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler.
Had Beasley declared for the draft and been selected late in the first round, he could have expected to have been offered a four-year contract worth $7-8 million, similar to the $7.62 million DeAndre Hopkins received as the 27th pick of the 2013 draft.
Beasley has not yet spoken publicly about his decision, but Swinney is convinced that as a work-in-progress player still learning the finer points of his position, Beasley will be an even better player a year from now than he is today.
"He's become a real leader for us," Swinney said. "It's really amazing - if you had told me two years ago that Vic would have emerged as a leader for us up front...that would have been hard to believe at the time.
"But he came out of (2012) with so much confidence. That's what just a little success can do for people. After that, he poured himself into the off-season and put on some really solid weight. He's 235 now, and he's still emerging. He's a fourth-year junior that's matured. He's not young any more - he's a full-grown man."
Swinney said Beasley expanded his game significantly in the fall, adding new moves and skills to his pass-rush arsenal and developing in his ability to defend the running game.
"He's a handful," Swinney said. "He can run around people. He can up-and-under people. And now he can bull people. He's strong enough and long enough that he can get into people without them getting into him, and he pushes the pocket. Even if he doesn't get the sack, he's still creating pressure.
“In the run game, he's sticking his nose in there and he's making some plays that other guys don't make, running things down from behind. He's bought into the importance of being a run-stopper.”
In returning to Clemson for a final season, Beasley is bucking a growing trend. A record 85 underclassmen have declared for the 2014 draft, including a trio of Beasley's teammates – Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Bashaud Breeland – and four from rival South Carolina – Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Bruce Ellington and Vic Hampton.
Several mock drafts are projecting Clowney, this year's top defensive end, as a possible No. 1 overall pick.
With another year of development under his belt, Beasley will be looking to move from late-first/early-second round territory into 2015's top 10.