Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.
For much of his childhood, Osbaldo Beltran was content with playing the football video game "Madden" instead of playing the actual game of football.
That changed in the eighth grade at Dalton Middle School, as many of his friends were playing for the team and convinced him to give it a shot. Now, football has opened a door for the Dalton High School offensive tackle. Earlier this month, the 6-foot-7, 320-pound senior verbally committed to play football for Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.
"I'm pretty excited," Beltran said. "To be able to play the sport that I love at the next level and get everything paid for including my education is cool. If you really put work into it, you'll be able to do it and go to the next level. Just put in the work in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom and it will pay off."
Beltran said the proximity of Cookeville to his hometown -- about two hours -- was a factor in his decision. His other offer, to Illinois State University in Normal, is some nine hours away from Dalton. The Tennessee Tech coaches, facilities and the small school atmosphere led Beltran to make his pledge to the Golden Eagles.
While committing to play college football is a big deal, Beltran is making history as the first in his family to attend college. He feels great pride in being an example to his younger family members.
"My nephew, he's in Mexico right now with my sister, he told my sister, 'Oh, I want to be like him. He was in the newspaper, now he's on TV. I want to be like him.' Setting any example for younger players, for family members, is just something that they can see in me and they can also follow and I can leave a footprint for them."
Beltran has also left a footprint -- a rather large one -- on the Catamounts program.
Coach Matt Land raved about Beltran's progression from his green freshman season to developing into a three-year starter and a college football prospect.
"I'll never forget," Land said. "If there was a classic deer in the headlights, it was him. He had just started playing his eighth-grade year. He was just so big. It was like a giraffe running through a corn field. He was up here and everybody else was down here."
But Land and the coaching staff quickly realized that Beltran, along with fellow offensive lineman Manny Vega, both "had something that nobody has at this stage, No. 1 being the size that they have. But secondly, you could just tell that they had some athleticism." So during Beltran's and Vega's freshman season, Land let them travel with the varsity team to gain invaluable experience of being around veteran players.
Tonight, it will be a battle of undefeated teams as Dalton (4-0, 1-0 Region 6-6A) travels to Kennesaw to take on Harrison (5-0, 2-0 Region 6-6A).