BLACKSBURG — Walking away from football has paid dividends for former Virginia Tech running back Cole Beck.
The Blacksburg High School graduate had been juggling two sports with the Hokies, but he gave up football last summer to focus on track and field.
Last month, the two-time Timesland boys athlete of the year won the men's 100 meters at the ACC outdoor track and field championships. He became the first Hokie to ever win the ACC title in that event.
"I knew if I just put one [sport] down, I would succeed," Beck said in a recent interview. "The decision has paid off."
The junior won the event in 10.11 seconds, breaking the school record.
"At 60 meters, I knew I won. I could feel it," he said. "I was like, 'Holy cow, it's coming to life, what I've been wanting.’"
Later in the month, Beck qualified for the NCAA outdoor championships in the men's 100 with his 12th-place finish at the NCAA East meet. He broke his own school record with a time of 10.10 seconds. He is only the second Hokie who has ever qualified for the NCAAs in that event.
Beck will compete in the NCAA championships Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon.
"I love the feeling before you get to the [start] line and everyone's cheering, everyone's talking and [the starter] pulls a gun out and says, 'Runners to your mark,’ and it goes quiet and it's all eyes on [the runners]," Beck said.
"I love to compete. … I love to win. I love to be the best."
Beck first caught the eye of the Virginia Tech track and field staff at a race when he was in the ninth grade.
"Football is my first love," Beck said. "I … started to run track for football [improvement], and then I fell in love with it, too."
He helped Blacksburg win a state football title as a junior, when he rushed for 2,156 yards and earned All-Timesland honors.
Beck also helped the Bruins win the state team title in indoor track and field that school year, when he won a state indoor crown in the 55 meters. At the Group 3A state outdoor meet, he won the 100 and the 200 for the second straight year. He also shined at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals, taking second in the 100.
He was named both the Timesland boys track and field performer of the year and the Timesland boys athlete of the 2016-17 school year.
"I always was a work dog," he said. "I used to work every single day. I'd be in the weight room or running."
Beck — actually, Coleton Beck — wanted to do both sports in college.
He verbally committed to Tech in the fall of his senior year, reaping a football scholarship but with the understanding that he could run track as well. North Carolina, Pittsburgh and East Carolina were also in the picture.
Beck again earned All-Timesland honors in football as a senior. He repeated as the Timesland boys track and field performer of the year after winning the 100 and 200 at the Class 4 state meet. He broke the Timesland records in the 100 (10.37) and the 200 (21.28). Beck was again named the overall Timesland boys athlete of the school year.
Beck was redshirted in football as a Tech freshman in 2018. In track and field that school year, he took fourth in the 100 at the 2019 ACC outdoor championships with a time of 10.22 seconds and competed in the 4x100 relay at the NCAA championships.
Beck broke his collarbone in a preseason football scrimmage in 2019. So he did not see game action that season, either.
He took fourth in the 60 meters and the 200 at the 2020 ACC indoor championships, but there was no outdoor season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last spring and summer, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Beck debated whether to continue doing both sports or choose one to focus on.
He was not sure if there would be a 2020 football season because of COVID-19, so he figured track might be a safer bet.
In August, he decided to see how good he could be if he stuck to track.
"I'm never going to shut a door. … I love football," he said. "[But] I want to focus on this right now.
"I'm going to commit fully to a track body, to the training, to the lifting.
"Cutting football out for the time [being] has helped my body get used to one thing."
Tech director of track and field and cross country Dave Cianelli was thrilled with Beck's decision.
"I knew how good he could be if he was able to train full-time as a track athlete," Cianelli said. "If you're trying to do two sports at this level, … that's very tough."
So last fall, Beck watched the Tech football team on TV.
"I missed the hell out of football," he said. "It sucks to watch it on TV, but most of the dudes on that team are my friends, … so I'm in front of the TV, screaming and hollering."
Instead of being with the football team, Beck was able to spend the fall and early winter training under Tech sprints coach Tim Vaught.
"He's been able to focus on developing as a sprinter in the fall and winter," Cianelli said. "That makes a huge difference because the majority of the sprinters he's run against, they aren't football players; they're year-round track guys."
Beck took fifth in the 60 meters and fourth in the 200 at the 2021 ACC indoor championships. Tech claimed the team title.
But the 100 is an event in the outdoor season. And this spring has been his breakthrough season.
"My body has gotten adapted to the training we've been doing," Beck said.
He took fifth in the 200 at the ACC outdoor championships last month but won gold in the 100.
"The last half [of the 100], he's as good as anybody," Cianelli said. "He's been working on that first half of the race."
"He's a very, very fierce competitor," Vaught said.
Beck will be one of 27 competitors in prelims of the 100 meters Wednesday at the NCAAs. He will also be part of Tech's 4x400 relay team at the meet.
He is on the bubble to compete in the 100 at the U.S. Olympic trials, which begin June 18 at Oregon.
Beck is still on a football scholarship, but he will be switched to a full track scholarship for the upcoming school year.
He plans to graduate next spring with a degree in property management, then pursue a graduate degree. He has two more years of track eligibility, having gained an extra year from the NCAA because of the pandemic.
Cianelli envisions Beck "getting better and better."
"I think he can run under 10 seconds in the 100 meters. That's real world-class time," Cianelli said. "He'll do it."