The story behind the greatest head shots in college football

What could be more boring and by-the-book than head shots of college football players? You know the requirements. Everybody look tough. No smiling – that’s for wussies. Save the pearly whites for your yearbook portrait. 

That’s why the goofball mugs by certain Bethel University football players went viral last week. Coach Steve Johnson’s bunch was encouraged to be creative and show some personality. The results are pretty funny, especially for an evangelical Christian institution.  ESPN.com senior writer Mark Schlabach, in a wrap-up of esoteric stuff, ranked them the best head shots in college football

It’s hard to beat this mountain-man-with-a-touch-of-Just-For-Men pose by senior tight end Ben Price of St. Johnsbury, Vt, whose red beard is assuredly real:

Ben Price
Courtesy of Bethel
Ben Price

Junior defensive end Steven Plocker, of Blue Earth, said his position group settled on two themes: Growing mustaches and dying them black, then acting surprised in their photos.  Plocker said he practiced at a mirror to get his expression right. Judge for yourself how he did. I’m seeing a little Chris Farley here (and yes, that is Steven’s actual hair):

Steven Plocker
Courtesy of Bethel
Steven Plocker

And here a few more:

Hultgren, Svihla, Werness, Ross, Fowler
Courtesy of Bethel
Top, left to right: Nate Hultgren, Cam Svihla, Josh Werness. Bottom, left to right: Ryan Ross and Ian Fowler.

Folks who follow Division III football heard of Bethel long before this. The Royals traditionally tangle with St. Thomas, St. John’s and Concordia-Moorhead for football supremacy in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). Since 2000, the Royals have won five MIAC championships and qualified for the NCAA playoffs eight times under Johnson, whose 193 career victories rank fourth among active coaches in Division III. Saturday, the 19th-ranked Royals host No. 6 Wartburg at Bethel Stadium.

The way Bethel sports information director Jared Johnson tells it, the goofiness started three years ago, when running back Jesse Phenow brought chains to Picture Day and asked if he could wear them around his neck. They took one photo with and one without. Here’s the without.

Phenow, now Bethel’s running backs coach, is quite the interesting fellow, and “the fun thing kind of lived on after he graduated,” Jared Johnson said.

So last year, Johnson said he encouraged players to do a gag shot as well as a traditional one, using the gags to promote home games on Twitter and Instagram. “Our best marketing tools are the students themselves,” Johnson said. “It’s brought a personality to our social media platforms, and it draws students to events.” 

This year, Plocker said about 20 of Bethel’s 100-plus players went along. “I just like to have fun,” Plocker said. “Football is very serious in practice, very intense. Once I get off the field, it’s fun to have fun with daily things, like taking a routine pic.”

Jared Johnson sent a sampling to several national media outlets. Fox Sports At the Buzzer tweeted three photos while noting, “Hands down, Bethel University’s football team has the best head shots!” Two local television stations picked it up a few days later. That encouraged Johnson to dispatch a second batch nationally that CBSSports.com, NCAA.com and ESPN jumped on.

Johnson said he held back a few “prop shots” for later in the season, so you’ll have to follow Royals on Twitter or Instagram to see them.

Price dyed his mustache as well, but the rest of his look was more spontaneous. “The braids were a last-minute thing,” Price said. “I was going into the training room and one of the volleyball players said, `I can braid your beard, I can do it really quick.’ It took about 15 minutes.”

The defensive players shaved their mustaches, but Price was stuck with his because, well, you can’t really keep a beard without one. “I have to let it grow out,” he said. It’s still growing. Meantime, he sports a half-black, half-red mustache.

“I haven’t seen my parents since May,” Price said Thursday afternoon. “They’re coming in tonight. My mother is going to be very surprised at what I look like.”

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by CJ Camp on 09/12/2015 - 10:20 am.

    Key word especially

    As a former (never-very-evangelical) evangelical Xian, I’m amused that the writer appears to be surprised that these kids have a sense of humor. I know the stereotypes and I get it, but it’s worth noting that Joel Hodgson went to Bethel.

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