NFL dream "within reach" for Mathis

May 8, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Acclaimed Bethel linebacker prepares to make jump from Division III to the NFL

Sports | Jared Nelson

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A two-time All-American and Bethel's all-time leader in tackles, senior linebacker Seth Mathis expects to hear from an NFL team in the days following the draft on May 8. | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers

Every year in early May, the sports world turns its attention to the NFL, as top prospects in the sport discover whether they will move on to the next level. This year has heightened significance for Bethel football fans, as senior linebacker Seth Mathis is expected to be contacted by a team in the weeks following the draft with an invite to their rookie camp in June.

Mathis wouldn’t be the first player to make the jump from an NCAA Division III school to the NFL, as players like London Fletcher of John Carroll University, Pierre Garçon of Mount Union College and Fred Jackson of Coe College have all had successful careers in the NFL after graduation.

The NFL became more than just a dream for Mathis following his junior season, when he led the team with five interceptions, and his 120 tackles ranked 25th in the nation. Following that season, he won his first of two AFCA All-American awards. The members of the American Football Coaches Association weren’t the only ones who took notice of Mathis’ superiority on the field, as NFL scouts began calling.

“We all grow up watching guys in the NFL, and want to do that,” Mathis said. “But it didn’t really become within reach for me until after my junior season.”

A representative from the Dallas Cowboys came to Minnesota to meet with Mathis in December 2012. Mathis underwent a series of measurements and was given a standardized intelligence test called the Wonderlic, which is taken by all NFL prospects.

“Ever since then, [the NFL] seemed like it was within reach,” Mathis said. “I started getting serious about it.”

Mathis wrapped up his college career in 2013 as a three-time All-MIAC performer, two-time All-American and Bethel’s all-time leader in tackles. It wasn’t long after his college career ended that Mathis progressed to the next step, which meant signing an agent. Mathis signed with a local agent named Greg Johnson, who recommended an exclusive training facility called ETS Sports Performance.

Mathis made what he calls “significant changes” to his lifestyle, including closely monitoring his diet and going to bed at 10 p.m. in preparation for the grueling sessions at ETS in the morning. At ETS he was able to train alongside athletes like Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings and star forward Thomas Vanek of the Montreal Canadiens.

About 25 athletes, some U of M football players and other local prospects, joined Mathis at the Gophers’ practice facility on March 3. A series of measurements were administered before the athletes ran a 40-yard dash. Overall, Mathis was pleased with the turnout of NFL coaches and his performance at the event.

“You name a team, and they were there,” he said. “I ran a really good time, too.”

If he would’ve ran it at the official NFL combine in February, Mathis’ 4.71 40-yard dash time would’ve ranked fourth among all inside linebackers. Because he’s coming from a small school, Mathis knows he needs to put up good numbers in his tests to catch the eye of teams at the next level.

“It’s hard to get the respect that the guys at a Big Ten school get,” Mathis said. “They look at my height and overlook me because I’m shorter, so I have to make up for it by running good times and having good film.”

At Bethel, Mathis played inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so most of the teams that have contacted him play a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.

Among the teams that have contacted the Mathis camp are the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. He’s also been in touch with the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.

Experts have Mathis slotted as about the 50th-ranked inside linebacker prospect in this year’s class. Mathis doesn’t expect to get drafted in the NFL draft on May 8, but as a priority free agent, he’s likely to hear from an interested team in the days following the draft.

Things are exciting as his future on the field becomes clearer, but the two-time All-American is handling the hysteria with humility.

“You go from being one of the main guys on the football team [at Bethel] to having to start from square one,” Mathis said. “That’s the way I like it. I like the underrated role because it makes you work all that much harder.”

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