Five senior wide receivers provide team with significant experience
Sports | Jared Nelson
Expectations are high for Bethel’s football team this season, as they return 17 starters from last season’s team that finished 9-3 and advanced to the postseason, winning in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. Their roster is loaded with talent and experience, particularly at the wide receiver position where Coach Johnson has five seniors, all with significant varsity experience. Mitch Hallstrom, Jay Hilbrands, Reese Walker, Jared Schultz and Grant Mitchell are the targets that quarterback Erik Peterson has at his disposal for 2013.
“The depth comes into play if injuries become a factor this season,” Coach Johnson said. “They’re all good in their own way and they all make each other better.”
Defenses around the MIAC understand the potency in Bethel’s passing game, and they will be forced to make some decisions on who to double cover, which, according to Coach Johnson, is when their depth will be key.
“Jay Hilbrands is a guy that people have been double covering, and when you've got a guy so good that he needs to be doubled, that helps the other guys find openings,” Johnson said. Hallstrom was second in the MIAC last season with 74.8 receiving yards per game, while Hilbrands’ seven touchdown receptions were good enough for fourth in the conference.
“We’re bringing back our top two threats through the air in Hilbrands and Hallstrom,” Grant Mitchell said. “And Reese Walker returning from injury brings us another level of playmaking and experience.”
Walker sat out due to an injury last season but MIAC defenses certainly remember him from 2011, when he was a big-play machine for the Royals, averaging 34.5 yards per catch and finding the endzone four times.
Jared Schultz and Grant Mitchell round out the veteran crew. Coach Johnson called Mitchell “an extremely polished receiver” who does all of the little things and said Schultz might just be the most athletic player on Bethel’s roster.
With all of the talent and experience at the wide receiver position, one may question whether or not quarterback Erik Peterson can keep them all happy with enough touches. However, a team first attitude is something that the coaches preach, and it is a philosophy that they have all adopted.
Mitchell said that the receivers operate under the maxim “be ready when your number is called,” because they’ll all need to step up and make plays at some point. He adds that they’re a tight knit group, hanging out together and rooting for each other as brothers.
“I can honestly say we’re pleased with the success of one another,” Mitchell said.
“One game a guy might get the majority of the catches with a few touchdowns, and he’ll have a quiet game the next week,” Hilbrands said. “We see our depth as an advantage. We can exploit the defense as a unit.”
“Everybody cares about their catches because they’re competitors and they want the ball,” Johnson said. “At the same time, if that’s all you care about, you're not going to be any good for the team. [Our receivers] are all team guys. They’ve played on a team that has been a run-oriented team, and this year we've got a chance to be pretty good in the air too.”
Above all, the receivers have a combined total of over 15 years of collegiate experience, and will use this to be leaders on and off the field. That role is something that they take seriously and does not go unnoticed by their coaches.
“[Our receivers] have been leaders through their character and through their willingness to humble themselves and work hard for their teammates,” Johnson said. “I think leadership reveals itself through the heat, and these guys have stood the test of time.”
Being seniors, the receivers understand that this may be their last time putting on a helmet and playing the game they love. Expectations are sky high and they’re letting selflessness and perseverance guide their efforts.
“Coming off of last year’s playoff win, we certainly have some high expectations for ourselves,” Hilbrands said. “But we understand that none of our goals can be reached if we don't work hard and stay together as a team.”