As the Bethel Royals prepare to take on No.4 Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday, many will be talking about the performance of the team’s defense. However, if this team is going to perch at the top of the Division-III College Football World, it will likely be freshman quarterback Jaran Roste that takes them there.
Introducing Bethel University Quarterback Jaran Roste
As the NCAA Division-III football playoffs reach the Elite Eight, analysts have put their faith in the usual suspects to win the title in 2018. Last year’s champion, Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor, who was the runner-up in 2017 and the winner in 2016, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, winners in 2013 and 2014, all are given the strongest odds to take this year’s title.
Far from the madding crowd, one school is looking to earn its first NCAA Division-III championship in football. Bethel University, a school hidden on the outskirts of St. Paul, has reached the final four twice but never played for the title. However, that looks to change this year as a stifling defense that is seemingly holding opponents to inches per play rather than yards has this team thinking national title.
While it is true that defenses win championships, a team still needs a big play quarterback if they are going to roost atop the football world in Division-III and Bethel has no doubt that their signal caller is just the man to lead them to the promised land. They are putting their faith in freshman quarterback Jaran Roste.
Not Your Average Freshman
While a freshman on paper, Jaran Roste is no 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school. He is not even your prototypical Division-III quarterback.
At 6-3, 230 pounds, he has the intelligence, vision, and physical size to be playing Division-I and was actually slated to do so when he signed to play for the University of Minnesota out of high school. However, after a year with the Gophers, the redshirt freshman decided that a change of scenery was necessary, opting to join his sister, Jana, at Bethel.
“I have two sisters who went to Bethel, so I had a good relationship with (Head) Coach (Steve) Johnson and the coaching staff. I just love the campus and the people here. It’s a pretty special college. It’s the perfect fit for me. When I was looking to transfer, there was really no question about me coming to Bethel.”
Jaran had already proven himself at the high school level. Coming out of Alexandria Area High School (Minnesota) he had been a Mr. Football finalist in the state, and had received All-State, All-Conference, and All-Section honors. Plus, he had excelled in the classroom as well, making it a certainty that Division-I schools would make him a continual stop on their recruiting tour.
While Jaran had the big credentials, he still had to prove that he deserved to be Bethel’s quarterback. That was going to be a challenge as the Royals already had an established signal caller in Jake Marsh, who had already thrown for nearly 2100 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017.
However, Jaran was undeterred. More than anything, he simply wanted to get on the field. To give his team an opportunity to win no matter what his role may be.
“I knew they had a very talented quarterback when I came in. I just wanted to be in a place where I knew that I could grow academically and spiritually as well as in football, whether that was helping out in special teams or helping out in goal line situations. I’m a bigger guy who likes to run the ball, I was just coming in with a mindset that I just wanted to help the team, whether that was playing quarterback or helping out on special teams. If it was helping out on the scout team, I would’ve done that. I just came with an open mindset and I was just really happy to be around the guys.”
Earning the Privilege of Leading
Early on, Jaran Roste split time with Marsh. In the first game of the season, he helped lead Bethel University to a 41-29 victory over Simpson College, completing 5 of 6 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Over the next three weeks, he would take a more active role with the offense, throwing for a combined total of 405 yards while gaining 237 on the ground. That included back to back impressive performances against Gustavus Adolphus and Carleton College, where he rushed for a combined total of 219 yards and seven touchdowns.
After the Royals suffered their only loss of the season, a 34-16 defeat at the hands of No. 5 St. John’s, this became Jaran Roste’s team to lead. He had arguably his best game of the season the week after the loss to the Johnnies, helping Bethel defeat previously unbeaten St. Olaf thanks to 183 yards passing and 153 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
A week later, the Royals dominated Concordia College, 41-13. Roste had 189 yards of total offense, with a passing and a rushing TD. Two weeks later he would have his biggest day passing, throwing for 243 yards and 3 touchdowns against Augsburg. He also added a rushing TD.
November 10 was the biggest game of the season – St. Thomas. This was a win or go home game, as both teams entered at 8-1. The winner would earn a place in the playoffs while the loser would be seeing their season come to an end. Jaran entered the game wanting to see his team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013, however, he had another motivation as well.
“When you look at the seniors, it’s their last ride and it’s easy to be a freshman and say that I have three more years left. This is their last year. So, I’m just trying to play hard for them because that’s a lot of motivation for me.”
The Royals would prevail, pulling off the 21-15 victory thanks to another dominating performance from their defense and a very senior-like performance from Roste. The quarterback threw for 172 yards and gained 116 more on the ground, with a touchdown. That score came on the play of the game, when Bethel was faced with a second and 20 at their own 7 yard line. Jaran kept the ball, finding an opening, breaking tackles and then racing 93 yards for a score to put his team up by 14. The Royals were playoff bound.
Living Up to His Name
Roste is a middle English word that means to “roost” or “perch.” If this team was going to reach the top of the Division-III football world, they were going to need Jaran Roste to lead them there.
Over the course of 10 games, Jaran had earned the trust of his team. Despite being just a freshman and only having a couple of months to get to know his teammates, they had placed their complete trust in the charismatic quarterback, knowing that he had what it took to keep them advancing each week.
“When your seniors and you have a freshman quarterback coming in, trust in you that’s huge. It’s huge for my confidence, it was very easy for me to trust them back. When I came in, they trusted me to make plays, to make reads, to help them win. So, when you have the trust of those seniors and upperclassman it’s not too hard to reciprocate that trust to your wide receivers, to your linemen, to your running backs. Then, I can make plays because they trust me to make them.
Through the first two weeks of the playoffs, he has lived up to his name, helping Bethel University to earn victories over both Wartburg and North Central. Against Wartburg, Jaran completed just three passes, but helped anchor a 387 yard rushing performance by the Royals with 150 yards on the ground and three touchdowns himself.
Last week against North Central, the No. 9 team in the country entering the contest, Jaran showed that his skills at the quarterback position were not just with his feet. Throwing for 219 yards and three touchdowns while completing 75% of his passes, the freshman had two big touchdown strikes, one for 72 yards and another for 43 in helping the team to advance to the North Region finals.
Set Your Face Like Flint
One of the most enjoyable parts about being around the Bethel University football program is the great sayings that Head Coach Steve Johnson comes up with each year. They have become as synonymous with the program as its winning tradition, and this year has been a focus on Isaiah 50:6-7:
6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
The message of the Coach has been that no matter what goes on with the program, no matter what adversity they face, they will set their face like stone and battle on. No one has embraced that philosophy more than Jaran Roste.
“There are so many highs and lows in a football game and in life where if you set your face like flint in the high moments and where you set your face like flint in the low moments it is just going to stay at a constant, and my constant is in the Lord. He’s always there for us at our highest point or at our lowest point. Coach Johnson just teaches us to set our face like flint and what’s next. It doesn’t matter what’s happened, it’s what’s next. You move onto the next play, you move onto the next class, you move onto the next day in life. It’s just something that Coach Johnson preaches here and is one of my favorite things that I’ve learned from him so far this year.”
One game away from reaching the national semifinals, that may seem like quite a challenge to do. It’s not easy to set aside all of the hoopla that occurs as one gets closer to the championship game, especially for a school that often lives in the shadow of St. Thomas and St. John’s. However, this it is not surprising for the freshman quarterback, who has made his faith a priority in leading him to higher levels of success.
“I wouldn’t have football without faith, if I’m being honest. God gave me the ability to play this amazing game with my teammates. I praise Him and I’m so blessed to be able to play it. I say faith is everything when it comes to football. I include Him in everything that I can, and I know that my teammates are the same. That’s kind of something that we all have in common.”
The closeness of this team has also been a huge factor, not only in the success of Jaran in particular, but in the overall performance of the program. There is a love for one another on this team that is like no other program in college sports, and the quarterback sees this as a huge reason why the team is having so much success.
“You hear brotherhood a lot but at Bethel it’s something that rings so true. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in season or out of season, guys are always hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. It’s so much bigger than football I think. That is what is so cool about Bethel I think. There are guys who go to chapel together, there are guys who go to church together, they hang out and spend all of their free time together. We spend all of our time together at football practice and afterward. We are always kind of together, having a good time, and I think that is what makes Bethel such a brotherhood.”
His brothers on the team and his faith in God have been instrumental in the success that Jaran Roste has had ever since he first started playing football, but the foundation of that success has been rooted in a family dedicated to watching their son, their brother thrive in everything he does.
“My parents have been very supportive of everything I’ve wanted to do. They are at every game, they come to practice, they’ve allowed me to be able to play all the sports that I love, allowed me to go to college and that’s something I’m very blessed with. They’ve done an amazing job with helping me through life and I’m very blessed to have them.
“My older sister graduated from Bethel two years ago, and my second oldest sister is here. We have lunch together every Wednesday, and I love hanging out with her. It’s a pretty cool experience to be able to go to school with my sister, and I actually have one other one coming here next year. I’m kind of known as Jana’s brother here and not Jaran. So, that’s kind of funny, and I love it to be honest.”
Ready to Roost
Saturday will be the greatest test for Bethel University this season. Taking on the No. 4 team in the nation is no easy task, but no one should think for a second that this team is the least bit intimidated by Wisconsin-Whitewater. Bethel has already faced two national title contenders this year, losing to St. John’s, the No. 5 team in the country, and defeating St. Thomas, who was ranked in the top four until they lost to St. John’s earlier this year.
They have the defense, the coaching staff, and the drive to be a championship team. To put Bethel University in the same class as Mary Hardin-Baylor and Mount Union.
They also have the star quarterback ready to take this team to the promised land. Whether by land or by air, Jaran Roste will look to make the right reads and come up with big plays to help the Royals advance to the next round.
With an enormous amount of talent, a face like flint, and the complete confidence of his teammates, no one should be surprised if Jaran Roste leads his team all the way to the championship. We may soon be crowing about how a freshman put Bethel University atop the college football perch.
Images of Jaran Roste in Bethel Uniform Courtesy of Bethel Athletics.
By Robert Pannier