BEMIDJI, Minn. – From Rhode Island to Georgia to Texas to California, the starting defensive secondary for Bemidji State in 2013 hails from one coast to the other. A rare nationwide combination of talent has led the Beaver defensive backfield this season, with one major theme connecting the group: speed.
“With the style of defense we run, we commit to stopping the run with personnel and we put a lot of pressure on our secondary and because of that, we need guys with speed,” said associate head coach Rich Jahner. “Area guys with the speed we need get gobbled up by the big schools, so we have gone everywhere to find speed.”
Right in the heart of the secondary are second-year starters at safety, juniors Scott Christensen (Stockbridge, Ga.) and Dylan Valentine (Temecula, Calif.). Both players landed at Bemidji State thanks to a connection in their hometowns back to the football program.
“My dad actually played here in the late ‘80s,” Christensen said. “When he was here, the team wasn’t doing so hot, so we had to do a little bit of research about how good Bemidji State had become and we were pretty satisfied with the way the records had been.”
“I used to train at Prodigy Athletes, an extra training program after school and after practice and one of the trainers there knew Pat Morris, who was a coach here for a while,” Valentine said. “I came on a visit and just loved it here, it was a little cold coming from Southern California, but I still loved it, I thought it was something different so I wanted to try it.”
Christensen’s father, Randy, a Litchfield, Minn. native, only played one season for the Beavers, but Scott has found his place in Bemidji. Inserted as a starter in his second game as a sophomore, Christensen has excelled on the Beaver defense and as a junior, has racked up 41 tackles (22 solo) with a pass break-up and fumble recovery. His tackle total sits second on the team and tied for ninth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
“Scott is a hard-hitting, run supporting safety, but he has developed into a pass cover safety too because he has really concentrated on shortening his stride and improving his footwork,” Jahner said. “He now has very quick feet to compliment his hard-hitting style.”
Valentine’s story is a little different. A cornerback in high school he was BSU’s top corner recruit in 2011. His talents enabled him to forgo his redshirt season and immediately contribute on special teams and in the secondary. It was Valentine who wanted to make the move to safety and after a spring to re-learn the defense, he was named a starter to begin the 2012 season and hasn’t missed a start since. This season, Valentine is fourth on the squad in tackles with 30 (15 solo), while his four pass break-ups ranks second for the Beavers.
“It was cool coming in right away, not having to sit out and being able to help out and have an immediate impact,” Valentine said. That was something I wanted to do and it helped my decision on where I wanted to come to school.
“At safety I really had to use my head, learn the defense and make calls. That was a hard transition for me. At corner the safety tells you what to do, so I had to switch roles and had to learn to give the calls instead of being told what to do.”
The two have bonded together, to be a solid tandem at safety, a position that was up in the air in 2012 after All-American Brody Scheff, Second Team All-NSIC Dusty Sluzewicz and captain Jake Schmidt all graduated following the 2011 season.
Today’s game will mark the 17th consecutive game Christensen and Valentine have started side-by-side. The two compliment each other well, as Christensen is the stopper when it comes to the rush and Valentine, a former cornerback, is strong in pass coverage.
“We have built some chemistry on the football field,” Valentine said. “We are always on the same page and know what we are going to call. He is a little bit better at stopping the run, so in certain game plans, he will go down to stop the run and I will stay back for the pass.”
“We became really close and really good friends on and off the field,” Christensen said. “Since we know each other, it helps out because he knows I’ll be there for the run and I know he will have my back when the pass is over the top.”
Both Christensen and Valentine, a duo from different sides of the country, have goals of earning accolades this season, but really are keyed in on getting better and strengthening the team.
“I’m glad I can contribute to the team and get tackles,” Christensen said. “My goals are to get more picks and tackles than the previous year and become an All-American.”
“This season I just wanted to step on the field and say I am a safety, just feel comfortable, get all the calls down and play football,” Valentine said. “My main focus this year was to do my job the best I can and the honors will come if I am worthy.”
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Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).