By Brian Hunsicker
|Jason Hofmeyer is only one piece of a Bethel
defense that held St. Thomas to under 300 yards rushing in their
two meetings this season, nearly 100 yards below their average the
rest of the year.
Photo by Scott Pierson, d3photography.com
There must be a secret to Bethel’s defensive success. There simply must be. How else to explain a unit that ranks ninth nationally in rushing defense — yet has no lineman over 240 pounds? How else to explain the sustained success this season in total defense and scoring defense?
The secret is this: It’s not just one secret.
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Instead, the combination of recruiting, coaching, chemistry and execution have come together to give the Royals a dream defensive season, as well as a trip to Mount Union in the national semifinals.
The process of building the Royals’ defense — indeed, it is a process — began years ago when the current crop of upperclassmen was recruited.
Bethel defensive coordinator Jimmy Miller said that his recruiting philosophy isn’t to identify and bring in a certain number of defensive linemen or linebackers or defensive backs. Instead, they’re looking for football players; once they’re enrolled, they’ll find a position. And sometimes long after they’re enrolled, they still might find a new home.
Junior Jason Hofmeyer was a tight end for his first two seasons with Bethel. But he moved to defensive end this season, a move which paid off for the Royals: Hofmeyer, the younger brother of former Bethel player Joey Hofmeyer, has three sacks and 29.5 tackles this season.
“We never dreamt [he would be a standout],” Miller said. “We fell into him.”
It certainly helps if the recruits come blessed with speed; that’s the hallmark of the 2010 Bethel defense. Such a philosophy originated with the University of Miami in the 1990s; more recently, TCU has capitalized on it. Bethel coach Steve Johnson said that opposing tackles should expect that if a Royal defensive lineman gets past them, they’ll likely be faster than the quarterback.
“We don’t send fat guys after the quarterback,” Johnson said.
With a lineup coalesced, Miller and his defensive assistants — linebackers coach Mike Fregeau and defensive assistant Rick Meyer — formulate the game plan. The three have been together for most of the decade; Miller has 10 years in as coordinator and Fregeau is in his 12th season as a Bethel assistant. Meyer was an all-MIAC defensive end for the Royals in 2000 and 2001 before becoming a coach there. He left for two years as a defensive coordinator at a nearby high school and is now in his sixth season back at Bethel.
Their overall goal: Stop the opponent’s run game cold. Doing so stymies the opposition and leaves them with a “disconcerting” feeling, Miller said. Just as important is the day-to-day work: Johnson marveled at hearing one of his defensive coaches remark that a particular player was a visual learner.
“He’s not just throwing the lesson plan down,” Johnson said. “He knows his guys well enough to understand how they learn.”
The familiarity of working with each other, and with the Royals’ defensive schemes and philosophy, has also been a key component of the defense’s success.
Another component: This year’s group has been particularly tight-knit. Miller couldn’t remember an instance of any of his players complaining about stats, and Johnson also raved about the unit’s cohesiveness and how they seem to genuinely enjoy being around one another.
For all of that work, though, what matters are the results on the field. And Johnson refers back to the three guiding words of the program: fast, obedient, disciplined. That drills down into individual technique; for instance, Johnson said, when a slant is called, the defensive line knows where it has to go. Just as importantly, each member knows they have to go full throttle to their assignment.
And who can argue with the results? The Royals have earned lofty rankings not just in rush defense but also in total defense (fourth nationally), scoring defense (fourth) and pass efficiency defense (29th of 236).
“We may not have the best players, but every player we have can do what we ask,” Johnson said. “Over time [the players] become confident in the coaches. You don’t worry too much about your 40 time — you become part of the machine.”