Bethel University can’t offer scholarships, hundred-million dollar facilities or 50,000 screaming fans at every home game, but continues to draw in high-caliber athletes.
By Caden Christiansen
Jaran Roste woke up to the sound of his 5:30 a.m. alarm and quickly threw on maroon and gold shorts and a t-shirt for his 6:00 a.m. lift with the University of Minnesota football team. After two hours of pushing and pulling sweat-glazed weights, he hustled to the film room at 8:30 a.m. where he stayed until practice started at 10 a.m. Two hours of slinging footballs to receivers and it was time for lunch, classes, study groups and more team meetings. As Roste walked the streets of Minneapolis from one activity to the next, he felt isolated from anybody not wearing maroon and gold athletic gear, because meeting new people wasn’t on his daily schedule.
Before quarterbacking the nationally ranked Bethel University football team, Roste was recruited out of Alexandria High School by several Division I and II schools for both basketball and football. After leading Alexandria football to a state tournament in 2016 during his senior year of high school, Roste began gaining interest from the likes of the University of Minnesota, North Dakota State University, Mankato State University and University of Minnesota Duluth for his football prowess.
Roste had been in contact with the University of Minnesota since his sophomore year of high school and was invited to multiple games at Huntington Bank Stadium where he watched from the sidelines as 50,000 fans waved pom poms and screamed the school fight song.
“I definitely got caught up in that energy and that definitely played a role in me going,” said Roste.
He was offered a spot on the team as a preferred walk-on, which he accepted after his senior football season. He arrived on campus in the summer of 2017 and the season began with summer practices. It only took one Big Ten practice before he realized how difficult it was to compete at the Division I level.
In his first pass attempt, Roste broke the huddle of maroon and gold players before walking to the line of scrimmage. He began his cadence, slowly scanning the defense. As he took the snap, Roste dropped back, looking towards the sideline for his receiver running a 10 yard out route. Releasing the ball, he saw a #11 flash in front of his receiver and pick it out of the air before running it all the way back to the other end zone for six points. That #11 was Antoine Winfield Jr., who would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021 and become a rising young star in the NFL.
“Definitely the level of athletes was a step up and just the time commitment of playing football,” said Roste. “It was something I wasn’t prepared for.”
It only took one fall season before Roste realized a change was needed. As lifts, meetings, games and practices consumed his life, he began to see how few relationships he was making outside of football.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to build connections elsewhere,” said Roste. “That was one of the reasons I decided to transfer, but it was definitely a cool experience looking back. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Roste had been exposed to Bethel since he was in eighth grade, when his older sister toured the campus and decided to attend. During a bye week in 2017, when the Gopher football team had a weekend off, he decided to come to Royal stadium for Bethel’s homecoming game against St. Olaf University. He watched from the metal bleachers as the Royals captured a 64-7 victory and began to see himself landing in Arden Hills.
After finishing the fall season at the U of M in 2017, Roste ditched maroon for navy and gold and has spent the last four years quarterbacking the Royals football team and finishing degrees in social studies education and political science.
Bethel competes in Division III within the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, offering 18 varsity sports for its student athletes. Despite having overall success within one of the most competitive Division III conferences, Bethel and all Division III schools around the country are unable to give athletic scholarships to their athletes under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Although tuition for undergraduate students is just under $40,000, highly recruited athletes turn down scholarships from bigger schools every year to attend Bethel and compete at the Division III level.
“Bethel provides the student athletes — the brothers — I get to play alongside who are going to push me to grow and push me develop as a player and as a person,” said Roste. “That’s what drew me to Bethel: how much it wasn’t about football because at the end of the day you’re going to have to hang [your equipment] up.”
Junior track and field sprinter and hurdler Josh Sampson faced a similar decision during his senior year of high school. Sampson won the 110-meter hurdles and 4×400-meter relay at state for Mounds View High School during his junior season and letters from the U of M, University of Iowa, University of Sioux Falls and University of Missouri began to arrive in the mail. But after a visit to the U of M, Sampson quickly realized that despite being offered an athletic scholarship, a university with over 50,000 students, miles of campus and non-stop training was not for him. It was the element of faith and community that attracted him to Bethel and has kept him there for the last three years.
“I wanted a place that was going to be rooted in [faith],” Sampson said. “This is where I’m supposed to be and where I want to be.”
Despite turning down scholarship money from the U of M, Sampson has been pleased with the competition he has been able to face in the MIAC. The Bethel Track and Field team competes against Division I programs at some meets and other high caliber athletes like Sampson that attend MIAC schools.
“Even at a D3 school, there are a good amount of people who could have gone D1, so I’m competing against D1 athletes as well,” said Sampson. “I gotta work my butt off.”
Bethel may not have billion-dollar stadiums and facilities filled with tens of thousands of screaming fans every home game, but it is the Christ-centered nature that draws many athletes of faith in. The private college experience allows for students to learn in more intimate classroom settings with more hands-on experience, while also learning from a Christian worldview.
“When our coaches recruit, we’re blatant about the foundation of Bethel being a Christ-centered university,” Bethel Athletic Director Greg Peterson said. “I think it actually makes recruiting better.”
Roste and Sampson have reflected this sentiment within their respective sports, having great success on the field and track, but they have also been able to grow off the field. Roste currently works as a housing mentor for Bethel’s BUILD program and hopes to use his social studies education degree to teach and coach in the long term. Sampson is majoring in psychology and minoring in business and hopes to attend graduate school to pursue a career in counseling.
“In Division I or II, in some ways your time is owned by the athletic program. We really want our student athletes to be integrated into the broader Bethel community and not be isolated,” Peterson said. “We want them to be friends with all different kinds of students. It’s more of a holistic college experience rather than just an athletic experience.”