Anoka brothers Seth and Landon Mathis are leaving their marks on what’s been a remarkable football season at Bethel University.
The brothers lined-up side-by-side at inside linebacker for the 12-0 Royals which reached the NCAA Division III national quarterfinals with a 34-27 win against Wartburg College at Royal Stadium in Arden Hills Nov. 30.
Seth, a senior captain, has been a staple of a stout defense earning individual honors for a third straight season including his first d3football.com All-American award last season. He came into the season on four preseason all-American lists and didn’t disappoint with 124 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and five interceptions. He earned a third all-MIAC first time honor and seems poised to earn a second all-American bid.
Landon, a sophomore, has tried to take full advantage of the chance to play alongside his brother after seeing sparse playing time last season.
The Royals came into the season looking to fill at least two linebacker spots and Landon answered the call, especially on passing downs where he can use his pass-rushing skills. Landon has 88 total tackles, two sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, pass defended and five pass breakups and earned a place on the All-MIAC second team defense.
Bethel had nine defensive players named to the post-season team. Quarterback Erik Peterson was named league MVP and coach Steve Johnson received the John Gagliardi MIAC Football Coach-of-the-Year honor.
Seth said he had a bittersweet feeling coming into his senior season.
“It’s an exciting time and I wanted to leapfrog from my junior season but at the same time you know your time is coming to an end and you just want to soak up as much of the experience as you can,” he said.
The brothers each had 10 tackles against Wartburg and Seth made two standout plays that helped secure the win. He blocked a point-after kick and the ball was returned for a safety to cut the Wartburg lead to 20-19 with 12:38 left.
Bethel scored on the next possession to lead 27-20 with 9:37 remaining.
Seth and teammate Landen Strilzuk helped preserve the win by stopping Knights’ running back Brandon Domeyer at the five-yard line as time expired.
With a perfect 10-0 record to win the MIAC Championship, the sixth-ranked Royals have their eyes set on national aspirations.
After beating St. John’s in the regular season finale, Seth said the coaches tried to get the point across of how special this season has been. “It’s been quite the ride with a lot of ups and downs but I think going through it with Landon has been a lot of fun,” he said.
They hope that fun continues for three more weeks. The championship game is set for Dec. 20 in Salem, Va. Bethel hosts North Central (Ill.) in Arden Hills on Saturday. Semifinals are slated for Dec. 14.
The brothers didn’t have a chance to play together in Anoka with Seth being four years older than Landon.
The first time they were on the field together came last season where Landon had 19 tackles in nine games and had a first-person perspective of Seth’s all-American campaign.
This year Landon has played in every game so far, leaving an impact on passing downs where he could pressure the quarterback.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” Landon said, trying to absorb as much knowledge while he can. “His wisdom from what he’s seen has helped me immensely and I just take it to heart more.”
Seth, a business, finance and marketing major, plans to graduate next spring and Landon recently switched majors from business to bio-sciences. Seth graduated from PACT Charter School in 2009, and Landon was part of the last Anoka football team to make it to state in 2011 before graduating in 2012.
The brothers have four siblings including Ang, Nate, Josh and David and admitted their father is the biggest Bethel football fan.
The brothers had 25 family members at the St. John’s game and they did a lot of greeting family afterwards.
Seth took a year off from football before starting his Bethel career.
“It’s definitely an experience. It’s hard to imagine,” Landon said about realizing his teammate was the person he looked up to. “It’s been a blast so far.”
Seth said the role of the inside linebacker forces teammates to get to know each other on a deeper level so it’s natural for brothers to find success.
“It’s made the transition a lot easier,” Landon said.
“We knew exactly what we were thinking before we said anything,” Seth said. “Communication is big here in the scheme and it helped us out a lot to know what each other was thinking.”
Learning everything that goes into the scheme for the linebackers took Landon an entire year to fully understand.
According to Seth, the position has four reads to make before making the play. “The objective of our defense is to get the linebackers tackles so that makes it tough to stick here for four seasons,” Seth said.
“You have to be the whole package to play here, too. You have to be a smart player then they ask you to get to some absurd places on the field.”
Seth has been impressed by the progress Landon made this season to earn his spot on the team outright. “I knew he would play this year but it’s fun to see him compete with the other linebackers to win the spot outright,” Seth said. “It’s really fun to see how physical he has been.
“[Landon] doesn’t get manhandled at all. He usually does the manhandling.”
Both said they keep things positive on the field at all times. “We’re both self-motivated and if I’ve made a mental mistake, Landon will say, ‘What’s next? We need to make the next play’,” Seth said.
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