At 6-0, 220 pounds, there is very little not to like about senior linebacker Landon Mathis. He is quick, has great instincts, is fundamentally sound, and is a natural leader that drives his teammates to perform better each and every week. He is truly a force of nature every time he hits the football field.
As impressive as he has been as an athlete, the truth is that this pales in comparison to how great he is as a person off the field. A terrorizing menace between the lines, becomes a gentle giant who carries his faith in Jesus Christ with the same kind of ferocious passion that he does when he sees an opposing running back break through the line. He is truly a guy that everyone finds a reason to like, and is the prototypical student-athlete you would find on the Bethel University football team.
An Easy Path to Becoming a Bethel Royal
For many high school students, selecting the right college to attend can be a real challenge. This is not only the place that will teach and train them for their career path, but also the place they will call home for four years, if not more. It is a big decision that can lead to absolute greatness, and one that is a very difficult one to make.
For Landon Mathis the decision was a simple one. He had grown up in a Christian home, and wanted to attend a school that embraced the Christian ideals fully. While playing football was important, it was not the primary key to his selection.
“It really felt like a good place for me. I wanted to come to Bethel because of their commitment to faith and helping a person grow in their faith. Football had really nothing to do with it at all.”
Another reason why Landon found the school to be ideal was that his older brother, Seth, was already a standout linebacker at the school. While attending a school where he could grow in his faith was important to the senior, being able to spend time with and play alongside his brother made the decision that much easier.
“My brother played here, and he loved it. I took a couple of visits and I loved it to. So what got me here was the faith piece, and my brother liked it too.”
Joining a New Family
While having Seth at the school was a real blessing to Landon, the truth was that the closeness of the team was something that was one of the most special aspects about his time at Bethel. With four older brothers and a sister, Landon already was a part of a large family, but joining the Royals introduced him to a whole new family; a group that has been as vital to his life as his mom or dad.
“It’s like a new family. That’s the best way to describe it here. It’s like a new family, a new growth piece, it makes you grow. It’s a really cool brotherhood that you have here. It was fun just to get to know the people that when you first came here you didn’t know anything about, but then you came to learn to know their character and you really find that you love the guys who are members of this team. Actually you love every person here. It is just that kind of environment.”
While growing into a brotherhood with his teammates has been a fantastic journey, he acknowledges that a key to the success of that brotherhood is the coaches. They not only want to help these young men to become outstanding football players, but they are more concerned with the character and faith of the players they are charged to help mature. Their commitment to the brotherhood has really helped this team develop into one of the most special places a football player will ever find.
“All the coaches are truly amazing here. They are more than just mentors to us; they are like dads to every one of us. It’s so great too, because it is easy to see that they want the best for us. They are not afraid to cry and hurt with us, and they are more excited about our successes than maybe even we are. You know you matter to them way beyond the football team.”
A Great Start at Bethel
One of the interesting aspects of the university is what the students call “The Bethel Bubble.” While just a few minutes drive to either downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis, the school is set as a kind of secluded village in Arden Hills. This allows students the ability to enjoy two metropolitan cities, while also having a safe environment to study and enjoy campus life away from the troubles that come from major cities.
This setup means that freshman and sophomores live in the dorms their first two years at the school. The university wants them to get acclimated to the school and to focus on their education. While it is a great atmosphere that makes it conducive to study, Landon found that “The Bethel Bubble” gave him two of the best years of his life.
“Freshman and sophomore years were fun living in the dorms. That was the funnest years. It was so great because everybody was just 10 steps down the hallway. It was great because your buddies are really close so you can have great times anytime. You’re always doing something fun or something crazy.”
While some may find the bubble a bit overwhelming, Landon explains that it is really not a big deal at all.
“We are kind of secluded but you can get off campus. If you don’t have a car, you will find a friend who has one, so you can do other stuff. It’s just a choice you can make. It really wasn’t a big deal to me as I don’t like to be in one place for too long, so it really didn’t affect me because I like trying new restaurants and stuff and get out in the cities a lot.”
Preparing for His Future
Many students come to college with a very clear idea of what they want to do with themselves, and they stick with that for their four years, leaving the university prepared to enter the job market. There are those who come with a clear picture in mind, but once they arrive at the school they find that their choice in occupation changes. That is what happened to Landon.
He first came to Bethel as a business major, but found that he really didn’t want to follow that pathway. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Landon found himself suffering a couple of serious injuries on the football field. The rehab was grueling, but it gave him the opportunity to work with the physical therapists. That gave him a new idea of what he wanted to do with himself.
“I switched to a bio-kinetics major primarily due to my knee injuries. That became me inspiration. I switched away from being a business major because I really liked seeing what the physical therapist was doing with my knee during my rehab.”
Recently, Landon has opted for a different major. He has switched to exercise science as his new career pathway. This has led him to want to get into coaching or some kind of training, something he knows that, despite his change in heart about his major, he is well prepared to do.
“They have done such a good job here of making sure I am ready no matter what I have chosen as my major. I may not know exactly what I want to do when I graduate, but I know they have helped to give me many opportunities. Now it is just a matter of picking which one I want.”
While they have given Landon the academic skills that will enable him to succeed, they have done much more than that. One of the things that he has really enjoyed about his time at Bethel is that they have challenged him to stand out.
“They teach you how the world really is. I feel like a lot of times people do things just because that’s what everybody else is doing. They taught me here to stand out and to do things not just because the majority is doing it but because it’s the right thing to do. Bethel really taught me how to investigate; how to build a conscience to know if something is the truth.”
Building a Legacy on the Field
Stand out is exactly what Landon Mathis has done since he first stepped on the field for the Bethel Royals. Call it good family genes, but like his brother Seth, who was invited to the Minnesota Vikings training camp, Landon excelled on the field and became a star inside linebacker for the Royals.
He always was a star athlete. During his time at Anoka High School he starred in three sports: football, basketball, and lacrosse. He was a two-time defensive MVP at the school, named all-conference in football, and the team’s captain. He clearly had the skill set that Coach Steve Johnson loves, but he had something even more appealing to the Coach – a passionate heart.
“Landon has a relentless motor,” Coach Johnson explains. “We say here to give your heart away, and he does that every day when he gets out of bed. He is just a tough guy who plays physical and plays with a lot of heart for his team.”
In his first season at Bethel, Landon saw limited action, but his sophomore season he was a key contributor in helping the Royals run to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Championship. The Bethel Royals went 10-0 in that season, then won two playoff games before falling in the NCAA Division-III quarterfinals.
Landon was a huge key to that success, finishing with 99 tackles, 2-sacks, and 2-interceptions. Against archrival St. John’s in the final game of the season, Landon made 17 tackles, including seven solo, in the victory that preserved the undefeated season. A pretty impressive mark for a guy in just his second season of playing college football. That was the second time he had at least 10 tackles in a game, and he would add two more double-digit tackles performances in the playoffs.
In his junior season, Landon was nothing short of spectacular, especially during a five game run from late September through October where he made 48-tackles. Sadly, against Gustavus Adolphus his season came to an end when he torn his ACL.
Landon trained hard all offseason preparing himself to return for his senior season. The knee was sound, and the physical therapists he had come to admire had him ready to compete again. Sadly, one game into the season it looked like his career was over. Landon tore his ACL again and was not willing to undergo another surgery at that time. Somehow he was figured out a way, drawing on his faith, to return to the field and play despite having no ACL in his knee.
Amazingly, he recorded 59-tackles, including 13 against Concordia and 11 against Division-III National Finalist St. Thomas. It was a remarkable show of courage to continue to battle despite a rather serious injury. He isn’t taking any credit for it however, placing the glory solely at the feet of his Savior.
“The longer I played here and the more injuries I went through the bigger God influenced my playing. I had two injuries, and each time it was surgery or for the last time it was going without it. That made it so that my greatest piece of faith was trusting that God would help me to make it through. The craziest part about it was that I didn’t even need an ACL to play, and I learned some great life lessons. I learned that football is much more than just football. I always went out there and did an act of worship. Working really hard in practice and doing all I could to apply it to something greater than myself.”
Setting the Tone for His Team
What truly sets Landon Mathis apart from many is that one can tell that his focus is not on himself, but is truly about the things that are “greater.” Clearly, his love for God and his desire to serve Jesus are a top motivator, but so are the 100-plus other guys on the team that he calls his brothers. He not only plays hard to help his team win, but he wants to make sure that he is a guy that they can count on to help them all get over the hump when times are tough.
“I like to be vocal, be the encourager, the one who likes to get after it during practice. I will be vocal but I want to set an example for the other guys, especially when I was entering my senior year. It’s kind of your responsibility as a senior to have an impact by showing the others what you have to do all the time to be a success.”
While Landon is a natural leader, he has benefitted from learning from previous seniors. They have helped to mold the exercise science major into a true field general.
“There have been great seniors here since I have arrived on campus that have really had a big influence on me. Not just my brother, but all the upperclassmen were so dedicated and had such strong faith. They helped all of us to be able to grow and mature, and to not take anything for granite. There was so much wisdom there as well. You know that when you become a senior you have some big shoes to fill and you strive to be the same kind of person that they were.”
The Importance of His Families
It is easy to see why Landon Mathis is such a success. It begins with his parents and siblings, who have made the support of their younger brother a true priority for the whole family.
“I don’t think my parents have missed a game in seven years, since Seth has been here. My whole family shows up, too. I have four older brothers who always come. They’re always here with their wives or girlfriends. My sister is out in Hawaii so she’s always watching online. My parents are awesome and have always supported me here, helping me get through the financial part of it. It’s crazy all the sacrifices they make for me. It’s amazing all that they have done for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better family.”
Fortunately for the senior, he has been blessed with another family, his teammates and coaches. He knows that just as his parents and siblings are always there for him, so are the other Royals football players.
“The atmosphere is definitely different. It is so amazing because these guys are like lifelong friends. They’re just buddies you’re going to call up later on in life just to get together.”
There is also an incredible fondness and appreciation for the person he has come to consider like a father to himself. In fact, Landon acknowledges that Coach Johnson played a key role in why he chose Bethel over all his other opportunities.
“What really got me here was coach Johnson. He really got me with what he says about if you want to be a donkey hang out with donkeys, but if you want to be a mustang hang out with mustangs. That got me because I really wanted to be the kind of person that’s respectful, the kind of person that Christ wants me to be. It is hard for me to think of someone that has had more influence on me as a person than Coach J.”
A Man of God Prepares for the Next Chapter
One of the interesting things that Landon Mathis points out is that Bethel does not have a flashy university. They don’t have a jumbotron in their football stadium or even a stadium that is glamorous looking. He points out that it is the “great people” that makes Bethel University a truly amazing place to attend. Something you have to experience to get.
For generations God inhabited a beautiful structure that was built with gold, marble, silver, and other adornments that made the Temple of God the envy of Canaan. It was a beautiful structure, yet the people easily strayed because God was in the building and not in them.
Now the Bible tells us that God inhabits His people. A Christian’s body is now the Temple of God. The Holy Spirit lives in each person, allowing each Believer to feel God’s presence in his or her own life.
It is easy to compare Bethel to this. As Landon points out, they don’t have the glitzy things you would find at many colleges and universities. They don’t have the adornments. Instead, they have a place where God is clearly living and transforming lives in the Bethel Bubble. One look at Landon Mathis and you can see that presence is a living one.
In just a couple of months Landon will be leaving Bethel University in search of the next chapter in his life. He may be leaving with a foggy picture of what he will do with himself, but don’t confuse that with fear or worry. The senior knows he is prepared for the future and whatever that holds, especially because he is leaving the university with a foundation that can only lead to success.
It is that strong foundation that will be leading the senior as he heads out the door. One can see that he is ready to push aside the obstacles in life just as adroitly as he pushes aside blockers. With the teachings he has received and the love and support of his two families he is ready to battle and move on into the unknown without fear of failing. So, while the Temple of Solomon one day fell, be certain that Temple of God that is Landon Mathis will stand strong for years to come.
By Robert Pannier