One of the things that makes the Bethel Royals football program so special is that from player No. 1 to player No. 100 every man has a role and every man makes a key contribution. What must be understood about this special program is that it is not the performance on the field that makes this team unique or special. That is just the outcome of all the things that happened behind the scenes that fans and alumni don’t get to see. It is the countless hours practicing and working out, the extra reps each player does, and the continuous extra minutes spent reviewing video tape that has led this team to a 33-12 mark over the last four seasons.
This is a team of men that enjoy the company of one another. They know that they will become better players and, more importantly, better men if they embrace the philosophy of their Head Football Coach, Steve Johnson, when he tells them if they want to be donkeys that they should hang around with donkeys, but if they want to be horses then they must hang around horses. It is his own take on Proverbs 27:17, which says that “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” If you keep good companions in your life, then you are going to see good results.
Senior OLB Mitch Dorhout is the very definition of what Coach Johnson is teaching. He is not only a man who has chosen to be influenced by great men that have sharpened him in the right way, but has also made sure that the influence he is having over others is iron forming as well.
Finding a Place Where He Fit in
Mitch grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D. where he was a key member of the team’s varsity football program since his sophomore season. He loved the sport of football, but two foot injuries his senior season soured Mitch on playing football any longer. In fact, he made a choice before he even decided where he would go to college that football and basketball were no longer going to be a part of his life.
When the time came to decide on where he would go to college, Mitch was torn as where he would go. He had considered attending schools such as the University of Nebraska and the University of Minnesota, but he really wanted to attend a Christian school. His personal faith was important to him and he wanted that progress to continue at whatever college or university he attended.
“I have a great relationship with my parents. They set the ground work for me. I grew up in a Christian home. When I grew up I told them I wanted to go to a Christian school. I had looked at the bigger public schools, but I didn’t feel like I would fit in. Obviously I wanted to take different steps, but I wanted to go a place where I fit in.”
The senior had not considered Bethel at first. In fact, he didn’t even really know about the school at all. His introduction to the university came the way of his best friend whose sister was enrolled at Bethel. He came to see the campus and quickly discovered that he had found his home for the next four years.
“I decided to come here because I wanted to go to a place where faith as well as community was an important part of the school. I had gone to a small private school, but I wanted to go to a bigger school. My graduating class in high school was 55, and so I felt Bethel was just perfect, where I know a lot of people but I don’t know everybody.”
While Bethel was the right fit for the outside linebacker, he knew that there were going to be some challenges in making his dream of becoming a Royal a reality. He credits his parents, Brent and Jena, for ensuring that he had the chance to grow both academically and spiritually, and they have seen the results.
“My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me to come to Bethel, but they are glad I came here. They continually tell me that I have really changed and developed into a man. The way I talk, the way I act is very different and my parents can see that. They make it so I could not possibly feel more loved.”
The Alternate Pathway to the Football Field
Mitch came to Bethel as an Economics/Finance and Business major. The University was building an outstanding business program, recently becoming accredited, and gave him the rigorous academic classes that prepared him for the dog eat dog world of business and finance.
They also gave him the chance to continue his desire to play sports, but it was not going to be in football. True to his word, he opted to play golf in his freshman and sophomore seasons. The injuries to his foot made a lasting impression and he did not want to risk further injury.
“My first two years here I played golf. I hurt my foot twice my senior year (in high school), so I thought I was done with sports. I was done with football. I was done with basketball. I wanted to just focus on golf. I mean, how can a person get injured playing golf?”
His desire to only play golf changed near the end of sophomore year. He became good friends with Royals standouts Matt Mehlhorn and Dan Leidall, who persuaded him that the football team was a lot more than a bunch of guys who wanted to tackle and score touchdowns. The team was a brotherhood, a community, and they pushed each other to excel in all aspects of life.
Prior to spring practice beginning, Mitch decided to talk with Coach Johnson and gauge whether this was truly for him or not. After the meeting he had no doubts that he was about to join the team.
“I just saw so much joy in him (Coach Johnson), and I realized that this was not just about football; it was about something so much greater. I went to Coach J and told him that I wanted to join the football team, that God was calling me to it and I wanted to make an impact, and he told me to just jump right in.”
A short time later he was a part of the team, joining them for spring practice. The experience was something that was truly special for Mitch. Most players hate the rigors and monotony of practice, but he really gained a true insight into what Bethel football is all about.
“I started doing the workouts, did spring ball, and just jumped right in. My first year was incredible. I had some great leaders that were just great examples of what it’s like to be Bethel football players. To be men of great faith who Coach J calls ‘tough suckers.’ These were just a bunch of guys who loved Jesus.”
A Football Career Begins
His first season with the team Mitch was placed with the scout team. His job was to prepare his team for their opponent and he embraced the duty fully. He knew he had a role to play, and if his team was going to have a good week that meant he had to have them ready.
“We all have a place here, and no one feels like they are above anyone else. I wanted to make sure that I performed my role so that the guys would be ready.”
This past season he appeared in eight games, making 16 tackles. His biggest game came in a 58-21 win over Carleton College when the senior made seven tackles. Mitch has had his moments on the field, but his biggest joy has come in serving his brothers. It has been his time with his teammates that has meant more to him than any tackle.
“I didn’t get a whole lot of playing time, but it didn’t matter because I got to spend the time with guys I love. I felt like I jumped in and gave my heart away, and that is what we always say. Give your heart away even though it can be broken. Looking back on it, the journey it was worth it every time.”
The Uniqueness of Bethel University Football
It may have been surprising to some that Mitch Dorhout would have come out of a self-imposed retirement to play football at Bethel, but it is the unique environment of the program that makes it so that players want to play here. The senior found through his friendships with football players that this was a very special place to play, and he wanted to be a part of what was going on with the team.
“We live as a brotherhood. We live as a community. We hold each other up and build each other up. Coach Meyer has the most challenging workouts you will ever do, and there is no way you can do it alone, and that is what is so unique. You just don’t find this anywhere else where you are willing to do whatever it takes for the guy next to you.”
The push to make the next man succeed is important, but there is also a desire to make sure you don’t let down the other 10 guys on the field. This is a true “one team” concept that is best epitomized by the upper classmen on the team. This was something that really caught his attention and made him want to play for this team.
“The mindset of Bethel football is a little different. At most schools, the seniors kind of puff their chests out and boss people around like they are the big men on campus. Here we are called to pick up from the ground up, so that means we need to encourage people. We need to invite freshman in. We need to get to know them and help them to fit right in. I think this is demonstrated in that we have a tradition on moving day where the seniors meet the freshman first. We want to make sure that we are building a connection right away and we want to make sure that they know that we are here for them.”
Being a leader is something that comes naturally to Mitch. He shies away from the caricature of him as an outstanding role model, instead giving credit to the past seniors for setting such a great example for him and others. However, he does understand that there is a responsibility that comes with being a senior, and he knows that the things he did had a profound impact on the incoming students.
“If you don’t help them right away, if you don’t invite them and make them feel welcome, then they are going to struggle with their identity; struggle with their confidence about jumping into the program. They may not be buying it right away, but they will see that they are all important. We are not trying to pump our chest out but are just trying be together as one team.”
The Future Looks Bright for Mitch Dorhout
For Mitch Dorhout, the experience he has as part of this football team has been something that he truly did not expect when he stepped onto the campus four years ago. Yet, it has helped to mold him into a young man that is ready to conquer the business world, especially knowing that wherever he goes and whatever he does there will be 100-plus guys he played with who will have his back, not to mention his coaches.
That is a comforting thought for the senior, especially considering that he knows that Bethel University has done their part in preparing him to be a star in his future. Mitch spent part of last year doing an internship at CVRE, where he gained valuable insights into the business world. He is still three months away from graduation but he already has a job lined up. Earlier this year his advisor at the school had an opportunity come across his desk, and he found that Mitch would be the ideal person for the position.
“My advisor has a connection at eCapital. Two Bethel alumni work there and they told my advisor about a position they had there. I stopped in to talk to him one day, and he told me about the position and that he was saving it for me because he thought it would be ideal for me. It is so great to have people in your corner that are willing to go to bat for you.”
Upon graduating Mitch will be a consultant for eCapital Advisors. In this role he will be providing gate analytics to a management team so that they will be more fully informed in their decision making process.
While his education has prepared him for the world of business and finance, he is also thankful for the other areas where Bethel has taught him. He has taken courses beyond the scope of his majors that have helped him in his personal development. These classes have provided information and ideas to him that have opened his mind in way he did not expect.
“You’re going to get a quality education and become more aware of your surroundings. You learn about so many areas that allow you to interact with all kinds of people and help you to make more informed decisions about things in your life you may not have thought about before.”
Mitch Dorhout will be leaving Bethel University in a few months to begin a whole new chapter in his life. The beginning pages of that chapter will be at eCapital, but how long he stays there will be up to this amazing young man. Mitch has the kind of character that makes it so that he could do so many different things if he chose to do so. He may stay at eCapital for 20 years, start his own company one day, or simply be a consultant to many different firms. The choices are limitless.
One thing that you can be sure about. He will carry the Gospel of Jesus with him wherever he goes, understanding that the way he lives his life is much more important than the words he says about his Savior. It is the one lesson that he has learned from Bethel that he takes more seriously than any other.
“There is a lot of discussion within the classes and they focus a lot on integrating your faith into wherever you will work. They talk a lot about the fact that you will spend 100,000 hours at your job and ask how are you going to bring the kingdom there. It doesn’t mean you have to preach faith there, but how will you represent God. I want my career to be a lot more than just a job. I want it to be a testament to how I love God and want to serve Him.”
Amen to that.
By Robert Pannier