Bethel alumnus JJ Wahlquist ’20 excels as a creative in the sports industry

JJ Wahlquist ’20 worked for Bethel’s athletic programs as a student, bringing together his passion for football and graphic design. This kickstarted what would become an impressive career for the recent graduate, whose resume already includes schools like University of Oregon, Mississippi State University, and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

February 02, 2021 | 8:30 a.m.

JJ Wahlquist '20

JJ Wahlquist '20

For years, football has held a prominent role in JJ Wahlquist’s life. He played all through high school, grew up watching his brother play for Bethel, and in 2016 the defensive end joined the Royals on the field himself. Today, he’s still living out his love for the sport as the new creative director for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team—a dream, and not one he takes for granted.

During Wahlquist’s sophomore year at Bethel, accumulating injuries seemed to bring his football career to a halt. What looked like a disappointing end, however, ushered in a different kind of season for Wahlquist. Since freshman year, he’d been dabbling in graphic design for Bethel athletics, but without plans to play football junior year, he was able to lean into his design work full force.

“I’ve always had an appreciation for the similarity of athletics and art,” Wahlquist says. “Like art, athletics takes practice. It’s a beautiful thing when someone does something great on the field.”

Wahlquist became the “self-entitled creative director” of all things designed for Bethel football, including recruitment materials, print pieces, and social media. Over the years, he worked on a variety of campaigns for Bethel’s athletic teams, and according to Tim Beasley, assistant athletic director for strategic communications and marketing, he produced “first class” work in every project he touched.

“JJ's design talent and skills were exceptional. He really honed them over the years and created a reputation for Bethel athletics which was envied across the country at all levels.”

— Tim Beasley, assistant athletic director

For Wahlquist, the opportunity to work with Bethel football in such a creative capacity was the perfect way to bring his passions, skills, and experience together. “I knew Bethel football and the kind of culture and environment they wanted to build on the team,” Wahlquist says. “It really felt like the Lord put me in that position, to do something I love, something I’m so passionate about.”

During his junior year in 2018, Wahlquist noticed Bethel football drawing national attention. The team made it to the Elite 8, with a record of 11-2. “It was super special for me to be a part of that,” he says. “At that point, we were getting attention on the national level. People were noticing us because we were winning games, but we also stood out because our branding was top-notch.”

Wahlquist is quick to clarify though, that building the Bethel football brand wasn’t a one-person operation. He gives credit to Jared Johnson GS'15, former assistant athletic director, for his ideation and for “taking him under his wing.” He also recognized AJ Barrett ’21, photographer and a fellow student worker, along with photographers Nathan Klok ’18 and Andy Kenutis ’07. “It really was a big team effort,” he says.

JJ Wahlquist and AJ Barrett

JJ Wahlquist '20 (right) with fellow student worker, AJ Barrett. "I couldn't have done it without him," Wahlquist says of Barrett.

In regards to his creative prowess, Wahlquist also gives credit to Jessica Henderson, associate professor of design. “When I changed my major to graphic design, I came in and I only wanted to create sports stuff, but Professor Henderson really challenged me to think outside of just sports,” he says. “I learned to look for inspiration from places like billboards, People magazine, or something like that outside of the sports realm. When you bring that perspective into the sports industry, it makes your work more dynamic and fresh.”

Toward the end of Wahlquist’s junior year, two Bethel football players, Kyle Kilgore ’19 and Dawson Brown ’19, participated in several NFL rookie minicamps, which allowed Wahlquist to do more design work that would be displayed on national platforms. Wahlquist considers this to be one of his favorite projects and counts it a blessing to have been able to create high-profile work for former teammates and friends.

After his junior year, Wahlquist’s graphic design career hit the fast track. He spent the summer before his senior year in an internship with the athletic department at Rice University in Houston, Texas, which he says solidified his decision to pursue graphic design in the sports industry. A month before his May 2020 graduation, he landed a job as a graphic designer for the University of Oregon football team, but then due to the pandemic that endeavor was cut short. A month after graduation, he received a job offer from the Mississippi State Football team, where he worked as a graphic designer from July 2020 until January 2021. Finally, on Monday, January 25, Wahlquist began his first day as creative director for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.


“What JJ was doing at Bethel was better than 95% of NCAA D1 schools, in terms of sports media designs… I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take this position (creative director) for a professional sports organization five years down the road. In this industry, there’s only a handful of individuals that have this kind of unique talent, and JJ is one of them.”

— AJ Barrett '21

As creative director for the Gophers, Wahlquist will be stepping into a management role, where he’ll be responsible for the brand of Gopher football, leading recruiting efforts, and furthering the development of internal creative operations.

“Honestly, it’s very surreal to be in this position. Not to get too sappy, but the Lord truly works in amazing ways…” he says, noting his journey from Bethel, to Texas, to Oregon, to Mississippi, and then back home to Minnesota. “All we need to do is trust in Him and His plan for us. His journey is much more special than we can ever imagine.”

Wahlquist is grateful for his new role with his hometown college football team and is eager to get to work. “I am really looking forward to being part of something bigger than myself," he says, "especially being a small part in the growth of this program, with the ultimate goal of being very successful as a team.”

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To see more from JJ Wahlquist, check out his online portfolio

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