Half way through the 2016 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) season, the Bethel Royals football team is having a bitter-sweet year. They are just 1-4 through the first five games, but have quickly proven to possess one of the most dynamic offenses in all of Division-III football. With three different quarterbacks who can all make plays with both their arm and their feet, a group of outstanding receivers, and a corral of talented running backs, this is an offense that has so many weapons that it could almost be a crime to hoard such a plethora of talent.
While all of them bring amazing qualities to field, one is standing out not only for his play on the field but also for the incredible young man that he has matured to become. A man who stands tall among his peers, and not just because of his height. That man is Jackson Canfield.
Highly Coveted for His Talent
Jackson Canfield has loved the sport of football since he first laced up the cleats. In high school, he starred at Providence Academy in Maple Grove, MN, and had several colleges taking a look at him, including St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. Interestingly enough, it was his play at the quarterback position that was garnering all the attention. Canfield had such a good arm that he even beat former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star Doug Flutie in a football throwing contest. In 2011 as a junior, Jackson helped the Lions reach the Class 3A Minnesota state semi-finals.
His success opened the door to a variety of options to play football. It looked like he would opt to stay in state, as several Division-II schools were courting the senior to be a part of their program.
One school that he had not given much thought about was Bethel University. It was not until until his senior season that he met the Royals head football coach, Steve Johnson. The Coach came to his parent’s home and they quickly realized that Bethel was the place for their son.
“He liked what he saw from me and came in for a home visit. By the end of the visit he had my parents crying along with my grandpa. They loved what he said about the college experience that they could provide.”
While he appreciated his parents input, Jackson was looking for a college that would give him the best opportunity to reach his personal goals. Goals that were not only about getting the education he desired, but also about becoming a mature man who was ready to battle in life and succeed.
“I was more open to the idea of coming to a place where I would get the chance to grow. I wanted to learn how to be a better man beyond athletics, a better husband, a better father, so I was really taken with coach J.”
Embracing the Bethel Way
In 2013, Jackson Canfield became a Bethel University Royal. He was about to jump right into fire, as he was not only moving away from home, but was entering a new kind of culture, plus the Royals football team entered the season ranked fourth in the country. It could have been a really tough transition for the then freshman, but it was the seniors who made him feel welcome and helped him to acclimate quickly to the university.
“My freshman year we were ranked fourth in the country in the preseason. We were really good, but it wasn’t just our skill that made us really good. We had a lot of great seniors on the team who really invited us in as freshman, and you could feel that they were excited about having us here. It was an extremely different culture from other schools where upperclassmen are hazing the younger ones and making fun of freshman. Instead, they really opened themselves up and helped build really great relationships. That was probably the coolest aspect.”
While the seniors and other members of the team really helped him to feel welcome at the school, the one thing that he had to get used to (something that most of the freshman need to get used to in fact) is the culture where players and coaches openly tell one another that they love each other.
“It was a little different feel to it for sure but, at the same time, it was a love that was rooted in a bunch of tough guys. It was the right kind to love more than a sunflowers and daisies kind of thing. It was get after each other because we care about one another.”
A Change Is a Comin’
His first season was spent in very limited action, but in his sophomore season the coaches asked Jackson Canfield to shift from quarterback to wide receiver. The team had five seniors at the receiver position who graduated, and they were in need of an infusion of talented younger players who had great hands and playmaking ability. Jackson fit that criteria perfectly.
At 6-4, he had the size to be a dominant receiver. He was also quick and had great hands. He had shown in high school that he could make plays with his legs, so switching to wide out seemed to be no big transition for the then sophomore.
However, this wasn’t just about physical abilities. Many young men don’t want to change positions, especially from one that has such a huge impact on the team to a spot that is perceived as a lesser role. This is part of what makes Jackson such a special young man. His concern is more with what is beneficial for his team and that made the choice to move a no-brainer.
“It’s been different but good. It’s been kind of a buy-in thing where if we want to be successful than we need to do this, this, and this. All I want to do is win, so whatever it means to make sure that happens then that’s what I’m going to do and give it 110 percent at what I’m doing.”
The change also gave Jackson the opportunity to embrace one of his favorite sayings from his head coach.
“Punch adversity in the mouth. I love that saying because I know that I can battle and win through any adversity. I want to be a guy who just loves life, a guy who is trying to find ways to get better in every situation. A guy who wants to get better in every situation. A guy who wants to work hard for the people that he cares about, for his teammates, and just trying to take advantage of opportunities he is given. When things are in my way I want to punch it in the mouth so I can be the things I want to be.”
His first season he made 7-catches for 98-yards. It was a good start in his new position and he showed the coaching staff that he had the talent to succeed at the position,
In 2015, Jackson would take on a much more active role. He made 22-catches last season for 296-yards and 3-touchdowns. His biggest game came on the final weekend of the season when the wide receiver caught 5-passes for a single game high of 90-yards and he added a touchdown.
It was an impressive season to say the least, especially considering that the Bethel Royals had one of the best running attacks in the country, led by Jackson’s former high school teammate Marshall Klitzke. The team also battled injuries that decimated the offensive line as well and left quarterbacks Trey Anderson and Andrew Dzurik battling to stay healthy as well. It was not an easy season for the Bethel offense, but Jackson was a big bright spot for the team.
This season, the senior is on pace to break all of his marks. In five-games so far he has 16-catches for 173-yards and a touchdown. He has caught at least one pass in every game this year, giving him seven straight games with at least one catch dating back to last season. Jackson also set a single game high in catches against Concordia when he made 6-catches. He is currently third on the team in receptions and averages better than 10-yards per reception. Even with the team struggling in some areas, he has helped this offense to be as potent as any in the MIAC.
Rising to Meet the Expectations
While his play has improved with each passing week and he has dedicated himself to getting better at his craft, this season Jackson Canfield realizes that his role as a senior is one that comes with a great deal of responsibility. Just as the seniors opened their hearts to him when he came to Bethel, he has realized that he needs to love the newcomers to the school and help them to embrace the Bethel way.
“As leaders you gotta show by example. That’s part of what made my freshman year so special. It was to see guys, upperclassmen who were working hard and being a positive example for others. I think it’s just a call for us as seniors to step up our game in order to help the freshman so that they know what to do as well.”
With his personality and welcoming smile, it is easy to see why the freshman have felt very welcome by Jackson this season. He is quick to greet others and the senior is never standoffish. You can see that there is a genuine love for others, which is why he is such a natural fit at the school.
As the years have gone by, Jackson has loved the fact that he has been blessed to spend a great deal of time with his head coach. It is one of the things that he has treasured most about his time at the university.
“I’ve had a chance to go into his office and just talk with him about whatever. To just talk about life. He’s given me so much advice that I can’t even swallow sometimes. The way he’s helped me, advised me on life decisions, relationship decisions, he’s literally like a second father in that sense. He is a guy that may not tell you what you want to hear but will tell you what you need to hear. To have that as a man of God in your life, that you can trust that he loves you, is really special.
The experience with the team has also given him an opportunity to enjoy a very special part of the Bethel University culture. The school is dedicated to helping its students mature in their faith in Jesus, and the rink, court, or field has been one of those areas where players are able to demonstrate the lessons that they have learned. It has also given Jackson a place to just let loose.
“Sports, in general, have always been a time for me to kind of just let go of the craziness of life and just enjoy a special time with special guys. For me personally, I just try to see the positive in every situation and see the positives in everything we are doing. If you are not having fun out there then you shouldn’t be out there. I love having fun, I love to bring good juice as coach J would say. I just absolutely love it.”
Jackson Canfield is bringing a whole lot of good things to the greater Bethel community. In a short period time the Biokinetics major will be heading out into the world, hopefully with the opportunity to work with kids who are in need of physical therapy. If he embraces helping kids in the same manner that he has embraced this football team, his classmates, and Bethel as a whole, then you can be sure that miraculous things will be happening at whatever office he works. You can also be sure that he will be punching the adversities of life in the mouth and smiling the entire time he is doing it.
By Robert Pannier