by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Morale on the Bethel College football team is high.
Not what you might expect, given a head coach resignation two weeks before athletes arrived on campus for the 2012 season, a string of injuries that resulted in only 36 players dressed to play Bethany College last weekend, and a 0-3 record.
“We have had to pull together and fight for each other even more,” said Leland Brown, a sophomore defensive lineman from Galveston Island, Texas. “We’re getting better. We’re bonding.”
Levi Minkevitch, a senior offensive lineman from Newton, agreed. “I feel like we’re more of a team, maybe because of the fact that we’ve gone through so much together. In previous years, we’d find someone to blame or scapegoat but we’re all realizing there’s no point. With so few numbers, we can’t afford to have these disagreements – we need to be a team.”
“We’re more of a family,” said Tevin Jones, a sophomore defensive back from McKinney, Texas. “We’re small in number but we’re working harder to achieve our goals.”
The players give plenty of credit to interim head coach Jim Dotson, who was living in Norton, Va., had just retired as executive director of Wise County Habitat for Humanity and “had a nice bucket list I wanted to pursue” when he got the call from Kent Allshouse, Bethel athletic director.
Dotson had spent a year in the late 1990s as a defensive line coach at Bethel and had good memories of it. Plus, he says, “I’ve always been one who loves a challenge.”
“You can’t do anything but respect Coach Dotson for what he’s doing and how he’s trying to help us,” said quarterback Bo Pratt, a sophomore from San Antonio, Texas. “He’s retired and he could be traveling with his wife but when he got the call, he said he’d be there. For someone to put their life aside to come and coach – that really speaks well of him.
“He’s not just out there on the field with us,” Pratt added. “He’s trying to make us better. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in the way he talks to us – he wants us not just to be better athletes but better students.”
“Coach has a real old-school philosophy that I like,” said Jerrell Williams, a junior defensive back from Dallas. “Both offense and defense gel together well. He doesn’t tolerate outside distractions. If you mess up outside football, how can he trust you to go on the field when he needs you? I really like that. It keeps us accountable not just in football but outside.”
Brown added, “Coach Dotson is really trying to turn things around while he’s here, to do the best he can to get us on the right path, and I really respect that.”
Dotson’s immediate goal for his interim tenure at Bethel is “to field as competitive a team as we can put on the field.” But he also has three broader goals: “Pass on players as well-versed in fundamentals as possible. Keep them in school – attrition in the last several years has been phenomenal. And recruit the best football players we can for the incoming head coach.”
Bethel College’s ad for a head football coach went out Sept. 14 on the NCAA and NAIA websites’ jobs boards and elsewhere, said Allshouse. “We’re very excited about the response and interest we’ve already received,” he said, “from both coasts and in between. We already have a pool of well-qualified applicants.”
The tentative schedule calls for phone interviews the week of Oct. 22 and campus visits the week of Nov. 12. “We hope to have somebody in place by the end of November,” Allshouse said.
Meanwhile, Coach Dotson will keep working with his players. After the Bethany game, and with a week off due to a pre-season cancellation, he had the team take one practice session to play softball. “We had a few dings and dents,” he said, “but sometimes you need to heal hearts and not just bodies.”
Overall, he said, he’s pleased with “improvement that’s taken place. Morale has been great, and the effort that the players have put forth has been unexcelled. We have made some strides.”
“We work together well,” said Williams. “We have a good group of freshmen – small but good. Now it comes down to keeping people here. That’s what will decide the future. We’re more determined. We know we have a good squad and a good coaching staff. We’re going to be a team to be reckoned with in the KCAC.”
Brown agreed there has been “improvement as a team, especially the last two games [against Southwestern and Bethany], with the defense holding [Bethany] to 16 points.
“We might not win on the scoreboard,” he said, “but in our hearts, we’re winning.”
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA.