Bethel kickers remain close despite misfortune
Sports | Michael Urch
Sophomore Andrew O'Reilly won the MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week twice, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7. O'Reilly became Bethel's starting kicker after Nathaniel Van Loon was injured during the team's first game. | Photo by Drea Chalmers
When kicker Nathaniel Van Loon was sidelined in Bethel’s game against Wartburg with an apparent knee injury, fellow sophomore Andrew O’Reilly was assigned the kicking responsibilities. Head coach Steve Johnson and his staff preach a “next man up” mentality, meaning every player must be ready when his number is called. According to Johnson, O’Reilly has done an exceptional job replacing Van Loon, saying that number 85 is as good a kicker as there is.
In replacement, O’Reilly has done something Van Loon has never done, and that is win the highest weekly honor for a kicker: the MIAC Special Teams Player of the Week. O’Reilly won the award in his first start against Carleton, going 8-for-8 on extra points and again the subsequent week after he booted the 31-yard field goal in the third quarter that would prove to be the difference against Augsburg.
Despite the competition for the spot of Bethel’s starting kicker, O’Reilly and Van Loon are close friends off the field. Their friendship, described as a brotherhood by sophomore Jake Thompson, is noticed by many around campus. Their bond as kickers began last fall, and they’ve been encouraging one another ever since.
“Van Loon is a brother in Christ. He knows everything about me,” O’Reilly said.
“It’s something sweet [for us] to be on the football field together and off. We can point each other to Christ,” Van Loon said. The pair spent the summer in South Carolina as a part of the Summer Training Project through Campus Outreach. They lifted, kicked and conditioned together, training for the season.
“It was kind of a surprise when Nathaniel went down,” O’Reilly said. “Usually a kicker doesn’t get hurt.”
Despite his initial astonishment, O’Reilly was prepared to take over the kicking position. He had worked hard in the weight room to strengthen his body in case the team ever needed him. Weight lifting is a culture among the football team, and O’Reilly has been diligently working without knowing if he would play.
“I was so impressed with him. He jumped into the culture without worrying about his playing time,” Coach Johnson said. “That shows character.”
Furthermore, O'Reilly's friendship with Van Loon has helped him develop his kicking.
“[Van Loon] knows a lot about kicking,” O’Reilly said. “He’s able to watch and critique me.”
When Van Loon was asked about how he was responding to his injury, he showed profound faith.
“In a way, it is hard because I’d like to be able to do active things and play on the football team, but I’ve also realized that it’s God’s plan. God does sweet things,” he said.
“He is handling it really well. Knowing him, he’s really competitive, and he really wants to play,” O’Reilly said of his close friend and injured teammate. “He’s probably really angry that he’s not playing, but I have not seen him angry about it once,” said O’Reilly.
In high school, Van Loon tore a ligament in his ankle while playing soccer. The injury caused him to put on some muscle in the weight room, play football, and ultimately come to Bethel. According to Van Loon, were it not for that injury, many things that have been influential in his life may not have happened.
“I’m really happy for Andrew -- that he’s doing well,” Van Loon said. “I wish I was out there, but it is really sweet that he’s doing so awesome. He’s a good friend of mine, and I really like to see him succeed.”
Thompson doesn’t notice any difference in how they treat each other. No matter who is playing, Van Loon or O’Reilly, their friendship remains strong.
“They both have such a solid foundation of having identity in Christ to where their identity of being a starting kicker doesn’t mean anything to either of them,” Thompson said.