In just five years at Virginia Tech, Cole Beck, a dual Division I athlete, engineer, and soon-to-be Master of Science graduate, will have accomplished more than many people will in their lifetime.
Dubbed the fastest football player in the world, he also holds the Virginia Tech track record for 100 meters in the outdoor season sprint, won first place in the 200-meter and 4×100-meter races, and was named Atlantic Coastal Conference Track MVP for both the indoor and outdoor seasons, all of which happened in the past year. On the gridiron, he set a career-long 40-yard kickoff return record and is capping off 2023 with his team going to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland.
In addition to athletics, Beck is doing double the work in the classroom as he prepares to graduate this December with a master’s degree in building construction science and management. He is building upon the skills he learned while completing his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech in apparel, housing, and resource management in 2022.
It’s a hard list of accomplishments to keep up with, much less live out. Beck attributes his ability to balance and excel with his busy schedule by staying disciplined.
“I grew up as an athlete who has had trials, failures, and successes to learn and grow from which ultimately has helped in the academic world,” said Beck of his journey from Blacksburg High School to Virginia Tech.
Beck calls football his first love, but in middle school, he turned to track to stay in better shape for his favorite sport.
On his first day of middle school track practice, Beck beat the fastest high school student in a 100-meter race. He didn’t stop there and went on to win numerous state meets that earned him the 2018 All-Timesland Boys Athlete of the Year. His confidence continued to grow in both football and track, and he graduated from Blacksburg High School in 2018 with offers from multiple universities to play football.
In the end, he decided to continue his career just up the road at Virginia Tech. Here, his successes have continued as he has held multiple positions on the football team as well as set track records, impressively excelling at both sports.
“I feel very rewarded in what I do. I love to stay busy, and I love to accomplish what I’m doing in the academic world and on the football and track field,” Beck said.
While a Hokie, he has tied the university’s 60-meter and 200-meter indoor record. Assistant head coach Tim Vaught said Beck’s positive attitude and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) spirit has not only made him, but also his teammates, a better athlete.
“Cole knew the work was going to be hard, but he knew the rewards were going to be greater than any pain he was going through at practice,” said Vaught. “To me, it was like having an extra coach with Cole sometimes leading warm-ups at practice.”
Leadership and service are threaded throughout Beck’s college career, especially football. His special teams coach, Stu Holt, said Beck comes ready to work every day with a detailed approach, but his spirit to step up and play special teams this season is what strikes him the most.
“There’s no question in my mind that he is capable of playing at the highest level of professional football when the time is right for him,” said Holt.
In the classroom, Beck’s motivation has been simple: create meaningful change for those who need it. With an undergraduate degree in property management under his belt and more time left to play football, Beck was faced with a choice: Get another undergraduate degree in a secondary area of study or go for a master’s degree.
“I was unsure of what path I wanted to take. When I looked at the big scheme of what I want to do, it was ultimately to help people,” Beck said.
Joe Gabbard, a family friend and Virginia Tech professor, introduced Beck to Philip Agee, a building construction professor whose work includes affordable housing. Agee introduced Beck to the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and its master’s program in 2022. The educational opportunity was a winning combination of hands-on learning and advanced technologies with a focus on the area Beck wants to pursue in the future.
With that, the pieces fit into place for Beck and he focused on utilizing the knowledge from his prior degree and his goal to give back. Adding even more to his plate, Beck set forth toward a master’s degree that would align with his long-term career goals post-graduation. But it was a transition that took some time to get adjusted to.
“The first semester of my master’s degree was like a shockwave. Over this last year, I feel like I’ve become more mature and determined to achieve, learn, and grow in the industry,” said Beck. “It’s difficult, and coming from my undergrad to my master’s, I had to almost relearn.”
With that determination, Beck has spent hours focusing on the advanced technologies engineers utilize across construction. He now dedicates hours of his schedule to learning the ins and outs of software such as Revit, a staple on job sites. Despite the long hours of learning, he calls the end product “satisfying” and something that will help him further his career outside of athletics.
“I’ve always wanted to be more than just an athlete. I wanted to further my education. So when I’m ready to start my career, I have something I really want to do,” said Beck.
Along with learning the tools of the trade, Beck also has taken a deep dive into the world of affordable housing. Learning under Andrew McCoy, they have walked through the process of conceptualization to reality to create more housing opportunities for communities. Alongside the push for change, McCoy has shown Beck how to weave in innovative technologies to solve some of the industry’s most complex issues.
“The housing industry has experienced severe shortages in labor, supply disruptions, record-level cost increases, and a resulting lack of affordable options for large parts of our population, especially those in need,” said McCoy. “In class, Cole has been instrumental in considering new ways our industry can solve these complicated problems and provide needed housing options for our communities.”
Beck’s spirit of giving back is more than just a mission. This past semester, he used his coursework to create an immediate opportunity to make a difference. As part of a construction leadership course, he and a team of graduate students organized a veterans donation drive. The group, with support from the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg communities, encouraged people to give back ahead of the holidays. It’s a project that hits close to home for him and many of his peers with families who have served in the military.
Backed by a service mentality, Beck is already helping the next generation of athletes as a mentor and example of what is possible with a dedication to greatness.
“The hard work that he puts into achieving his goals will only open doors for him long after he graduates from Virginia Tech,” said Vaught.
As Beck prepares to graduate, his athletic successes are far from over. Later this month, he will cheer on his Virginia Tech football teammates at the Military Bowl against Tulane. With high hopes for his next steps, Beck has had two goals written down for over a year: participate in the NFL Combine and compete in Olympic trials in June 2024. But first, he will get to add another degree to his roster, this time, sporting an orange hardhat as he builds the life he has worked so hard to have.
The Military Bowl on Dec. 27 will kick off at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
Ashley Williamson for Virginia Tech