Bethea Defies Odds As He Prepares for Second Superbowl
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following spring practice headed into the 2003 season, Ron Bolton, the then secondary coach for Howard University, voluntarily reflected on his observations on the overall performance. Bolton, who had played professionally in the National Football League for 10 seasons as a safety, singled out one player in particular; whom he had been impressed with.
"If Antoine Bethea continues to develop and improve, he will be playing on Sundays," predicted Bolton at the time.
Fast forward to eight years later and Bethea not only fulfilled Bolton's prophecy, he has exceeded it. The starting safety for the Indianapolis Colts, Bethea will be playing in his second Super Bowl in four years.
The always confident Bethea, nicknamed "Deuce" for the jersey number 2 that he wore at Howard, has emerged as one of the top players in his position in the league, and was so rewarded by being selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his productive career this past season. He was not able to play in the Pro Bowl game because the game was played the week before the Super Bowl under the new NFL format.
Despite Bolton's optimism, Bethea initially failed to impress NFL scouts following his outstanding career with Howard. As a safety, Bethea led the Bison in tackles for three straight years and was named to the American Urban Radio Sheridan Broadcasting Network (SBN) Black College All American team, making him one of only four players (the late Steve "Air" McNair of Alcorn State, Tracy White of Howard, Shannon Sharpe of Savannah State) to be so honored.
Bethea put in countless hours training and preparing for the NFL draft during and after his career at Howard. His physical dimensions increased from 5-8, 162 pounds, to 5-10, 200 pounds and his speed increased from 4.6 to a high 4.4 in the 40. Still, there were questions on whether or not a player who excelled at the 1-AA level could make the tough transition to the NFL.
"I never doubted my ability to play at that level," says the confident Bethea. "It served as a motivation to me. I knew that I could compete at that level. I just needed the opportunity to prove it."
Despite showing well in the pre draft workouts, there were still doubters. The Colts drafted Bethea on the sixth round as the 207th pick. Bethea responded to the challenge again and quickly worked his way into the starting lineup at the beginning of the pre season.
Some of the doubters were miffed by the fact that a player, who was drafted on the sixth round from a 1-AA school, could actually start in the NFL. But Bethea silenced the critics and gained the starting spot at safety and has been firmly entrenched there ever since.
When queried on how and why Bethea earned a starting spot on the Colts' team, then head coach Tony Dungy responded that Bethea had exceeded all their expectations both in terms of his play on the field and his intelligence in picking up the defensive scheme.
The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl and Bethea earned a ring. It could have been the highlight of his young career, but the highly driven Bethea, wanted more. Then in his second season, he had an outstanding season and was named to the Pro Bowl, becoming the first player in school history to receive that honor.
As a seasoned veteran on the Colts' team and one of their leaders in an improved defense, Bethea values his role as an ambassador.
"When I take the field and play on the big stage of the Super Bowl, I feel that I am representing Howard University, the MEAC and all the HBCUs. Oftentimes, the athletes from those institutions are not expected to excel at this level. I feel that it is my responsibility to change that myth. It is truly an honor for me to be representing my alma mater, HU in this game."
The MEAC will also be represented by Chad Simpson, running back/kick return specialist for the Colts, who was a standout for Morgan State.
Bethea, Simpson and the Colts will attempt to win their second world championship when they take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at 6 pm.