SPRINGFIELD, Mo. • The numbers can measure size, speed and statistics.
Six-feet-six inches and 220 pounds; 4.37 seconds to run 40 yards; 181 receptions, 4,120 yards; 51 touchdowns.
The numbers show why Dorial Green-Beckham, the wide receiver from Hillcrest High School in Springfield, is at the top of every Division I college football team's 2012 recruiting list.
But the numbers can't fully explain how the 18-year-old got to where he is today.
To understand that, start before recruiting experts compared him to Randy Moss, before college coaches swooned at the thought of signing him, and before grown men gossiped about where he will go. Start when a seventh-grader named Dorial Green moved in with a family named Beckham.
Hillcrest High School stands hardly a mile off Interstate 44 in Springfield. Opened in 1958, the brick building on Grant Road has a stone sign out front that welcomes visitors to Hornet Country. Around back is a tired looking football field anchored by two rusting white goalposts. Farther back is an even more tired looking practice field surrounded by trees and tall grass.
It is a Tuesday morning and the Hillcrest football team has just broken down its huddle. The players carry their shoulder pads and helmets on their walk from the far field to the locker room. Once inside, the smells of sweat and dirt, combined in a poorly ventilated room, create the unmistakable aroma of high school football. Hillcrest coach John Beckham shuts his office door, and the scent stays outside. He sits behind his desk and begins to explain how his team's best player started calling him Dad.
"Every family has unique situations," Beckham said. "Our family is a little different."
Dorial Green was born in St. Louis, the second-youngest son of Charmelle Green's six children. His mother struggled with alcohol and legal problems, and her family suffered the effects. Dorial Green and his younger brother, Darnell Green, spent time transitioning between life in East St. Louis and Springfield. At times they lived with their mother, other times they slept on couches of relatives. When there was no family to turn to, foster and group homes were the only alternatives.
Meanwhile, John and Tracy Beckham, foster parents for just more than 20 years, had a history of welcoming new faces into the house that sits on 60 acres just a few minutes drive into the Springfield countryside. They had been foster parents for dozens of kids and had permanently adopted three.
"Earlier on, they were younger kids," John Beckham said. "As I started coaching high school football, most of the kids were high-school age kids that we knew, that we already had a relationship with or some sort of a connection."
John Beckham's connection to Dorial and Darnell Green came from football. Charmelle Green's two oldest sons played at Hillcrest. The second-oldest, Sam Smith, lived with the Beckhams shortly while Dorial and Darnell were staying at a group home in Springfield.
Dorial and Darnell were not allowed to attend Hillcrest games without being checked out of the home by a licensed foster care provider. Because Tracy Beckham qualified, she started taking the brothers to see Sam Smith play.
When another relocation threatened to uproot Dorial and Darnell in 2006, John and Tracy Beckham did what they had been doing for years. They agreed to take in more children.
The smell of the locker room returns briefly when Dorial Green-Beckham opens the door of the coach's office to come inside. He takes a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk. The patch of hair on his chin and the series of star tattoos on his right arm make him look older than he is. But his youth shows when he laughs. And he is laughing now, as he remembers not wanting to move in with the Beckhams as a seventh-grader.
"I kind of had no choice," Dorial said.
Children in foster care don't get to pick where they live. When the Beckhams offered to accept the brothers, Family Services did not ask for Dorial's and Darnell's approval.
"I don't think Dorial was all that thrilled about the idea," John Beckham said. "He had been in several different places. Kids don't just come in and trust you right off the bat just because you say they can trust you. That means nothing. It has taken a long time for Dorial and Darnell to trust my wife and I."
The Beckhams understood. They had learned that building trust takes time. Children who grow up without consistent homes keep their guard up for good reason. For most kids, getting in trouble might result in getting grounded. For those in foster care, trouble can mean getting a new set of strangers to live with.
"When I first came it felt weird," Dorial said. "I had a lot to think about. I was always thinking about what's going to happen next, and if my brother wanted to stay. A couple months flew by. We got closer and closer."
Tracy Beckham sums up the adjustment period with the help of a holiday. During their first Thanksgiving in the Beckham house, the two newest members refused to eat.
"Dorial and Darnell wouldn't even try the turkey," she said. "It was just turkey, dressing and gravy. They weren't used to that, and they weren't used to everyone sitting down. By the next Thanksgiving they were loading up their plates, laughing and having a great time."
Eventually, the family had a talk about the future. Dorial and Darnell had decided they wanted to stay.
"We talked about if we are comfortable being there and how we felt," Dorial said. "I felt pretty good after a while. I was getting more comfortable being around them each day."
A shocking diagnosis
The Beckhams officially adopted Dorial and Darnell in December 2009. The brothers changed their name to reflect the addition of the family they now claim as their own. Signatures on paperwork made them a family by law. The test that followed two years later cleared any doubts that may have remained.
For the first time, Dorial and Darnell were playing high school sports together. Dorial was a junior, and his athletic ability was already well known. As a freshman, Darnell was starting to show his own talent.
"He does possess the qualities Dorial had as a freshman, the size and speed," Hillcrest offensive coordinator Andy McFarland said. "Dorial is a bit more explosive, and Darnell is a bit more smooth. It's definitely easy to tell they are brothers."
The same was true in basketball. Dorial and Darnell played together, each bringing his own effective style. The older brother dominated with blocked shots and dunks. The younger preferred pulling up for 3-pointers.
It was after a basketball game on a Friday in February that Darnell started complaining of hip pain. The following Tuesday, he went to find John Beckham at school. The athlete known for moving smoothly could hardly walk.
"I called my wife," Beckham said. "She came and got him and took him to the doctor. Later that evening they were in an ambulance on the way to Memphis."
Darnell was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of cancer in children.
"It was out of the blue," John Beckham said. "A complete shock."
The disease preys on immature white blood cells in the bone marrow. If caught in time and treated immediately, the prognosis can be good. The Beckhams entered Darnell into a rigorous program at St. Jude's Children Research Hospital in Memphis. The series of treatments to combat the disease would take up to three years to complete.
"I told him he could make it," Dorial said. "I told him to keep fighting and that we were all going to be there for him."
For the first and most aggressive phase of treatment, Darnell had to stay in Memphis for three months. He was never alone.
Dorial sent him text messages every day while trying to keep his phone out of sight from teachers at school. He wanted his younger brother to know he was thinking about him. He wanted to make him laugh. During spring break, he took a group of teammates to Memphis to visit.
John Beckham hardly left Darnell's side. He took a leave of absence and moved into a room at the Ronald McDonald House. When he was not there, Tracy Beckham was.
The chemotherapy and the medicine started to get results. Darnell's condition improved.
He recently started his second phase of treatment in Springfield. Tracy Beckham takes him once a week to a local hospital for his appointments. Sometimes they last an hour. Sometimes they last five. He has 115 more weeks left, and the process will not be completely finished until the fall of his senior year.
Darnell had hoped to be healthy enough to play football for Hillcrest this season. That chance remains unlikely. He has practiced with the team twice this summer, but it is doubtful he will be ready for games in the fall. Basketball in the winter holds a better chance, and it would mean the two brothers get to play together again.
Thoughts of returning to sports are promising. They mean Darnell has made it through the worst.
"The prognosis is positive, and there is a high cure rate," John Beckham said. "It's just a really long, tough road."
Hardship can bring people together or split them apart. As Darnell's cancer weakened, the Beckham family grew stronger.
"With how the family responded around him, I think Darnell really understands that he is part of a family," John Beckham said. "No matter what it takes, we are going to be there for them. I think Dorial understands that, too."
Dorial cannot thank John and Tracy Beckham for his genetic gifts.
The couple that adopted him did not give him the speed that won him the state track championship in the 100-meter dash as a sophomore (11.0 seconds) or the leaping ability that helped him place first in the triple jump (23 feet 2¼ inches) that same year.
What he does thank the Beckhams for is giving him a family for the first time in his life. And for Dorial, family is becoming increasingly important.
On Friday nights in the fall, people come to the tired looking football field behind Hillcrest High School to watch the Hornets play. For the past two years, the crowd has been growing. Dorial is the center of attention, even at away games.
After Hillcrest lost to Camdenton, 28-7, last season, a group of children, too young to play football but old enough to know a good player when they saw one, waited after the game to ask Dorial for his autograph. Dorial had caught seven passes for 217 yards and Hillcrest's only touchdown.
"He is a man among kids," said Bob Shore, who coached his 35th and final season at Camdenton last year. He won 318 games and five state championships while with the Lakers. He has watched a lot of good high school football players come and go. He remembers coaching against a hard-nosed Webb City defensive end named Grant Wistrom, who went on to play college football for Nebraska and then for the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. But he does not remember ever seeing a player like Dorial.
"Most players, no matter how good they are, have some chink in their armor, some weakness," Shore said. "They will shy from contact or you can beat them up, or they are a straight-liner who can't make you miss. He doesn't have any of those. He's such a complete package."
Before long, every college in the nation had heard. Coaches from Oklahoma, Ohio State and Arkansas have been to his games. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Alabama's Nick Saban have stood outside of John Beckham's office door. Earlier this week, a handwritten note from Missouri coach Gary Pinkel sat near the edge of his desk.
"There really isn't any school in the country that hasn't inquired about him," John Beckham said.
The process of big-time recruitment has its rewards. The Beckhams have dined with Texas coach Mack Brown, and Dorial has met former standout college wide receivers such as Alabama's Julio Jones and Missouri's Danario Alexander.
There are also times when it can be too much.
John Beckham's cell phone rings more than it should. Because he doubles as a father and a coach, recruiters take advantage of a loophole in the NCAA rule that blocks them from calling a player's parents. Dorial's Facebook profile is littered with posts from college football fans promoting their school of choice. When the family goes to visit at a school, news of their arrival and departure serves as Internet fodder for recruiting junkies.
"After a while you get used to it," Dorial said. "There's some days where it's too much. There are some days it's fine."
John and Tracy Beckham do their best to shield him from the pressure. They decline more interviews than they accept, and they try to keep the leak of recruiting news to a minimum. They keep Dorial level-headed, and they remind him to enjoy his final year of high school.
"He's got a basketball team he belongs to," John Beckham said. "He's going to run track, and he's going to finish out his senior year, and he's going to go to prom. He's going to do all the things seniors are supposed to do."
After the family visits Auburn this weekend, campus visits and recruiting will slow down as the focus turns to Hillcrest football. Dorial will talk to college coaches once a week by phone. He will not pick a college until after the Hornets' season is over.
"He has the luxury of not having to make a decision right away," John Beckham said. "There's no reason to rush."
But the attention will continue to grow. Hillcrest's first game of the season on Aug. 27 will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.
At some point, Dorial Green-Beckham will make his decision. He can pick only one school. It is impossible to please every coach who recruited him, every fan who wants him to see him in their colors. Thousands will be disappointed. With time, they will move on.
His family will remain.