Seven games into his senior season at Bethel University, Jesse Moeckly has reached a level of success that he himself has expected since the day he stepped onto the campus. The graduate of Century High School in Rochester, MN has become a force at the outside linebacker position, leading the team in tackles and sacks, while also helping to lead a squad that is one of the dominant team’s in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). It is a season that has truly demonstrated the skill of the senior, but has also depicted the quality of character that makes him one of the most respected players on the team.
To understand Jesse, one must begin with an understanding of the Bethel University football culture. This is a team that is built as much on love for your brothers on the team and a true desire to serve Jesus Christ as it is about tackles, extra points, and yards rushing. Many schools talk about the need to bring in character guys who fit the makeup of the team and the university as a whole. Bethel lives this out in every player they recruit.
Knowing that, it is easy to see why Jesse Moeckly is the ideal Bethel Royals football player. He is a man of great character, who serves and loves his teammates with a fervency that one traditionally only has for his family and, on top of that, he can really play football.
Jesse was a standout linebacker and wide receiver at Century, who questioned what he wanted to do with himself following his senior year in high school. His parents were graduates of Bethel University, and he honestly admits that this fact deterred him from wanting to attend the school at first.
“My parents both went to Bethel. My dad played football here for two years. I wanted to follow in my own footsteps and choose my own path, do my own thing. Obviously in high school you want to be a little rebellious – go your own way.”
After visiting the school and getting to talk with Head Coach Steve Johnson, he quickly changed his mind about attending and decided that he had found the school he was going to call home the next four years. “I eventually came on a tour, met with some guys and talked with Coach J. After thinking about it I thought that this was right and everything just came together.”
His choice of school was not the only decision he was examining. Jesse was not even sure if he wanted to play football any longer, but an email by Ross Petterson, the Royals’ linebackers coach, changed his mind.
Jesse played sparingly his freshman season, but in his sophomore campaign he became a more dominant force on the defense. The linebacker finished the season with 36-tackles and two sacks in 12 games, including a high of 11-tackles against St. Olaf. The Royals won the MIAC championship that season and it was the play of their defense that was a key to their success. Coach Johnson called Moeckly’s play that year “inspiring” and acknowledged that the then sophomore “made contributions to the team that were pivotal to us making the playoffs.”
Coming off an impressive 2013 campaign, it appeared that the skies were the limit in 2014, but injuries limited his time on the field and he never was able to reach the form of his sophomore season. It was a disappointing year, but made him hungry to return and wipe away the memories of his junior campaign.
In 2015 he has done just that. The senior seemingly finds himself involved in every play. With the early season injury to star inside linebacker Landon Mathis, much was asked of all of the other linebackers, and Jesse was more than happy to oblige.
“His loss was obviously a big one, and the coaches asked us to really dig down for one another. We have all done that and it is the guys around me that make it so that I can have success.”
Success is what he has had. His 50 tackles leads the team, as does his 4.5 sacks. Jesse has also intercepted a pass, broken up two others, and recorded two quarterback hits. He also leads the team in tackles for loss with 8.5, and his ability to get himself into position to make big plays has been one of the most memorable parts of the season for Coach Johnson.
“Jesse Moeckly is a guy with a big motor. His intensity is really something, but he plays with such control. He is not just running around trying to figure out who to hit, but is a guy that really plays smart, physical football, and is such a good leader on the field.”
While playing at an exceptionally high level, it is these additional intangibles that have made him such a treat to watch play this season. Recognizing that his role has changed as part of being a senior, the Royals linebacker has committed himself to taking a more active role in guiding this team, to include joining the other seniors in making this year’s freshman feel like they are a part of the family.
“We welcome them with open arms and want them diving right in. The senior class is very open. We don’t pump out our chests, but instead focus on being accepting, wanting them to feel comfortable and not shy when they come here. I want them to feel like they can talk to me about anything, but if I am not doing that then I am missing it somehow.”
Bethel is a place where the players are expected to wear their faith on their sleeves. These young men love God and each other, and want their brothers on the team to have great success on the field, in the class, and in life in general. To many on the team that means patting their teammate on the back and helping when they are struggling. Jesse embraces that role as well, but is willing to take on the much tougher one that not many like to do – holding his teammates accountable.
“I believe in holding each other accountable. In a loving way you are going to push them to get back on the right pathway. To let them know that the choices they are making are not what they should want for themselves.”
Jesse separates himself from many men his age in that he truly wants to see his brothers on the team do well, and is willing to make the tough calls to see them prosper. He wants to be a good friend, but understands that this means that a kick in the butt may be more important than pat on the back.
“I know they have goals in life and I want them to see that their success is not just important to them, but to those around them as well. I am not afraid to tell them when they are off the track, and they expect that from me because they know I want them to succeed.”
It is that love for his teammates that helps to define his leadership. He really embraces the fact that he loves the guys he goes to battle with each week, but admits that it took him a little time to understand what this love foundation was all about.
“As a freshman I didn’t really grasp it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I truly understood what they meant and what it felt like. I could see it before that, but it wasn’t until then that I could truly understand it and exemplify it. Initially it was a bit different but a good different.”
At Bethel the players are annually given a group of great sayings from their coach. Each player has their personal favorite and Jesse is no exception. His personal choice seems so fitting because it is the true embodiment of how he is as a person.
“Be the man you want to be and write it on a rock. Find people who are on the same journey and surround yourself with those people,” he explains.
While Coach Johnson summarized Jesse Moeckly’s mission in life, that message is something that he has embraced since he can remember. He has been a young man dedicated to excellence and being a young man of integrity, and there are two people he credits most for leading him to this pathway.
“My parents are really great. Both know how to motivate me. My dad has always been the driver. He’s embodied some of the characteristics that Coach J has, but in a different way than Coach J. He is one of those guys that is going to attack things straight on, and I can see that in his determination and his drive; his enthusiasm to take on different battles each day. I think I am like that as well.
“My mother is just extremely supportive no matter what. If I wanted to be a garbage man she would be happy for me if that is what I wanted. Combined they are a great combination.”
When Jesse Moeckly takes to the field for the Bethel University Royals it is clear that the two “halves” of his parents are what he brings on every play. He is a relentless force who leaves quarterbacks and running backs with nightmares of No. 3. He is also a guy who pushes his teammates to excel and reach levels of success that only a leader and brother can help to influence. He is a truly remarkable young man in this respect.
A fascinating aspect of the Royals linebacker is his ability to paint a picture of what he is talking about. In describing the “right” way to play football he gave a metaphor that was as much philosophy as it was explanation.
“You got a puzzle. Each puzzle piece has its own shape. When you look at the puzzle piece you can see that each piece has its own colors, some have blue, some green, and that tells you nothing. But once you find all those pieces and you put them all together, each of those pieces with their unique design come together to make something that is the picture of what you want it to look like. This is like a team. Each player is like a piece, and when you put it all together you can see the picture of what the team looks like, what the season looks like.”
Clearly the puzzle that is Jesse Moeckly has been molded and designed by many, forming a young man that is the embodiment of what a Bethel University football player and student should be like. The many colors, designs, and shapes of the senior have helped to paint a picture of a great teammate, leader and friend.
The economics and finance major would one day like to join the investment world, helping people make smart choices with their money that could lead them to greater success. How good he will be at that only time will tell, but one thing is clear. If he approaches the financial world with the same kind of drive that he uses to chase down an opposing ball carrier, his clients are going to do very well. So look out Merrill Lynch. You’re about to dropped for a loss.
By Robert Pannier