Royals loaded with All-Americans, ranked 8th in preseason poll
Sports | Jared Nelson
From left, Mitch Hallstrom, Seth Mathis, J.D. Melhorn, Jesse Phenow and Luke Buttenhoff were recognized as preseason All-Americans. | Photos for The Clarion courtesy of Sports Information
For the Bethel football team, high expectations are the norm. The Royals have created a tradition of winning in the program, going 20 straight years without a losing season and seeing eight postseasons berths since 2000. The team has maintained their ranking in the top 25 since Oct. 10, 2010, an astounding feat that has lasted for 1,010 days (or 145 weeks).
Last season, the Royals had an 8-2 record in the regular season, earning them a playoff matchup against Concordia University Chicago. They defeated the Cougars 24-23 and then fell to UW-Oshkosh the following week, 37-14. 17 starters from last season are returning, and all across the football community people recognize the potential that the team has this season.
Bethel football is ranked 8th in a preseason poll conducted by d3football.com and 12th by Lindy’s Sports. Perennial MIAC powerhouse St. Thomas is ranked 2nd in both of those polls. Johnson says that the team is well aware of the rankings, but it is not something that they dwell on.
“Its always good to be ranked, there’s a piece of that which gives you confidence and that’s something you always want to hang on to,” Johnson said. He added that the mindset, activities and efforts of the team are not impacted by outside news.
“[The rankings] are in the media, and we’re really just focused on trying to get better every day,” Johnson said. “Our day to day work is the big deal here, and all the other stuff will take care of itself.”
In addition to the team rankings, Bethel has five players that are recognized as preseason All-Americans. USA Football selected linebacker Seth Mathis, defensive back J.D. Mehlhorn, and wide receiver Mitch Hallstrom for first team honors. Running back Jesse Phenow was on the fourth team and defensive end Luke Buttenhoff made the list of honorable mentions. All of Bethel’s preseason All-Americans are seniors.
USA Football’s selection of Mathis is his fourth honor of the sort this preseason, coming off of a junior campaign that resulted in a pair of All-American awards. His 130 tackles last season leave him just 27 tackles shy of Bethel’s all- time record.
Senior Luke Buttenhoff says the team is well aware of the recognition, but they have a healthy view of the rankings and awards.
“Its nice to hear that we’re one of the top ten teams in the country,” Buttenhoff said. “There’s no denying that it’s a cool thing, but we don’t judge our worth as a team off of any preseason rankings.”
Playing in a competitive conference, Bethel is embracing the mindset that the game is won through hard work and preparation, not any online poll. According to Buttenhoff, it’s a mindset that they’ve been able to adopt easily because of their favorable rank in past years.
“Its so tough to win week in and week out in our conference,” Buttenhoff said. “We know its gonna take a huge effort to get another conference championship.”
In terms of the Royals’ expectations of themselves, they’re focused on putting forth maximum effort each day on the road to a conference and national championship.
“Our expectations never change,” Coach Johnson said. “We expect to be competitive in every way, and we want people to hate to play us because of how hard we play.”
Johnson isn’t as concerned with the wins and losses as he is with putting forth the effort each and every day. Buttenhoff echoed his coach’s emphasis on the daily team activities.
“As a team, first and foremost, the focus is the God piece,” Buttenhoff said. “If you base success strictly on wins and losses, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself disappointed. Over 300 teams end the season with a loss. That’s just the reality of it.”
The perspective displayed by Buttenhoff is contagious on the team, infecting everyone from the seasoned All-Americans to the wide-eyed freshmen.
“It's easy to get wrapped up in the discussion about individual awards, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to be a helpful part of this team,” Buttenhoff said.