Justin Bethel to be Inducted into Big South Hall of Fame – Class of 2024

June 23, 2023

2012 Presbyterian College graduate and 11-year National Football League veteran Justin Bethel has been named to the Big South Conference Hall of Fame for the Class of 2024. Announced on Wednesday afternoon by league Commissioner Sherika A. Montgomery, Bethel will earn the distinction of being the first Blue Hose athlete to permanently etch their name in the Big South Hall of Fame since its formation in 2003 and PC’s admittance to the conference in 2007.

An FCS All-America recipient (Associated Press, College Sporting News, College Sports Journal, & Phil Steele Magazine), 2011 Big South Defensive Player of the Year, member of the 2010-19 Big South All-Decade team, and three-time NFL Pro-Bowl attendee, Bethel joins Clayton Almeida of Winthrop men’s tennis and former Eagles softball head coach Mark Cooke on the ’24 Hall of Fame ballot.

His name echoed all over the PC record book, Bethel has remained in the National Football League since 2012 and is currently under contract with the two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.

“I’d like to send out a huge thank you to everyone in the Big South’s administration, as this is an honor I never envisioned back when I first started out playing football”, remarked Bethel. “During my four years at PC, I always tried to transform into the best player I could possibly be. I greatly appreciate the conference committee and am proud to represent the Blue Hose.”

“I’ll always remember the bonds that I made and my time on the field. Presbyterian holds a special place in my heart. I’m glad I was able to wear those colors and compete at a place that helped me advance to the next stage of my playing career.”

Bethel becomes the first ever Blue Hose athlete to have their name enshrined in the Hall of Fame while simultaneously being just the third football player conference-wide to join the esteemed list.

The official induction service will be held on May 30, 2024 during a special ceremony as part of the conference’s annual spring meetings at the Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, S.C.

The Big South Hall of Fame – formed 20 years ago – now totals 81 former student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and contributors with the addition of the 2024 class.

Spanning over a decade at the professional stage, Bethel has appeared in 176 NFL games with five different franchises. Following his first year in South Beach, the PC legend has accumulated 263 tackles, five interceptions that have led to 180 yards in the opposite direction, and three touchdowns.

Presbyterian Career (2008-11)

Coinciding with Presbyterian’s infant stages of transition to the NCAA Division I level (arriving on campus in summer 2008), Bethel sits atop the list of all Blue Hose players over the last 15 years in total interceptions (seven), INT-return yards (129), and blocked kicks (nine), ranking third in the school’s D-I history with 279 tackles (including 60 solo stops as a senior alone).

Those nine blocked kicks still stand as the most by any player in Big South history. Additionally, Bethel remains the only athlete in the conference to boast a pair of blocked punt return touchdowns.

A true workhorse in the secondary, Bethel led his squad in total tackles as both a sophomore (79) and senior (87), a unanimous choice for the All-Big South first team in 2011 as well as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given each year to the “most outstanding defensive player in FCS football”.

He saved his best campaign for last during his stay in Clinton, picking off four passes as a senior (second-most over a single season in PC’s D-I history), recognized three times as the Big South Defensive/Special Teams Player of the Week.

Over a two-week stretch in September 2011, Bethel registered three touchdowns via blocked kick or interception, catching the eye of NFL scouts with an incendiary performance against the California Golden Bears that saw a 29-yard INT ran back for a score and a blocked boot that went 41 yards in the other direction for another TD in that same contest.

Such an effort warranted recognition from national media, leading to his acceptance of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Defensive Performer of the Week award.

Following the San Francisco visit (PC’s only feature to date against a Pac-12 opponent), Bethel found the end zone again versus Furman in the same outing where he accomplished a career-best 15 tackles. The performance was one of 10 occasions with double-digit stops at the collegiate level, collecting one short of 200 solo tackles throughout his time as a Blue Hose.

Justin produced some of his most versatile efforts against league opponent Gardner-Webb, responsible for PC’s first and only single-game showing with two blocked kicks as a sophomore in 2009 against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. The next fall in Boiling Springs, he landed a career-long 39-yard interception return in what amounted to a 26-24 road victory.

A premiere defensive back in the Big South, Bethel finished his Presbyterian career with 14 tackles for a loss, two and a half sacks, four forced fumbles, and 16 pass breakups. He was chosen for postseason all-league honors in each of his final three years in Clinton, and would later have his number 31 jersey retired by his alma mater Blythewood High School in 2015.

Bethel’s contributions to PC extended beyond the gridiron, providing donations for a hydrotherapy facility within the college’s Kemper D. Lake sports medicine center, named in his honor. A state-of-the-art addition to the Blue Hose athletic training umbrella, the enhancement was dedicated four years into Bethel’s professional career.

NFL Draft
On April 28, 2012 in New York City, Bethel became the ninth Blue Hose member all-time to be selected in the NFL Draft, chosen in the sixth round (177th pick) by the Arizona Cardinals. His historic day represented the first Presbyterian athlete taken in the draft since 1969 and resulted in a four-year rookie contract that was inked within one month of draft day.

Invited to the NFL Draft Combine where he promptly delivered a 39 and a half inch vertical leap (the highest of any defensive player attending), Justin logged his pro debut in the 2012 season-opener against the Seattle Seahawks, an NFC West divisional rival which Arizona bested 20-16.

Arizona Cardinals (2012-17)

This was just the beginning of a profitable partnership with the Cardinals, as Bethel recorded his first professional touchdown off a blocked field goal attempt against the Chicago Bears two days before Christmas 2012. The 82-yard return was the highlight of a rookie year that entailed 13 tackles for the Blue Hose grad.

Bethel bumped up his production in the ’13 campaign, blocking his first FG attempt in the big leagues on September 15 against the Detroit Lions, a feat he would achieve again two months later versus the Houston Texans.

Completing a task never before seen by a Presbyterian big-leaguer, Bethel notched an invitation to the Pro Bowl in just his second season with Arizona, joining noteworthy teammates Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, and Calais Campbell.

He wasn’t finished racking up requests for the Pro Bowl, an exploit he would fulfill in three consecutive years as a special teams representative.

Beyond his 25 tackles in the 2014 stretch, Bethel continued to turn heads with his third blocked kick on November 2 against the Dallas Cowboys, chosen as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts. On December 7, he landed a game-saving fumble recovery in a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, solidifying a 17-14 victory and a nod towards the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award.

Bethel’s third go-round with the Cardinals docked him in historic company, becoming just the second player in franchise history to accomplish a Pro Bowl berth multiple times as a special teamer, joining the company of Ron Wolfley in the 1980’s.

NFL Playoff Debut (2014-15)
The former Blue Hose checked off another item on the bucket list in January 2015, checking in for the first time in postseason action against the Carolina Panthers. Bethel would register a safety in the 4th quarter of that NFC Wild Card round, although the Cards would fall on the road by a 27-16 margin.

He would execute the trifecta of Pro Bowl appearances during the final year of his rookie contract in Arizona, collecting a career-high 46 tackles in his fourth spell for a roster that tallied a 13-3 regular season record.

Career-Best 2015 Season

On September 27, 2015, Bethel helped move the Cardinals to 3-0 by logging his first NFL interception in a 47-7 blowout over the San Francisco 49ers. He would return the picked-off pass 21 yards for a TD and would later add his third forced fumble in the big leagues on October 26 against the Baltimore Ravens, a 26-18 triumph that started a nine-game winning streak.

Bethel’s importance to Arizona continued to increase, as he would administer his first NFL start on the first day of November for a 34-20 W over the Cleveland Browns. His services with the Cardinals would be extended once signing a three-year deal to remain with the franchise.

Following his lucrative extension, Bethel notched a single-game best eight tackles in the penultimate bout of the ’15 regular season – a 38-8 shellacking over the Green Bay Packers – next to an interception off of four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Having captured the NFC Western division crown by a three-game slide, Bethel pounced on the opportunity to feature in his first Playoff outing in a starting role which coincidentally came in a rematch against the Packers. He gathered six tackles in an overtime thriller that allowed Arizona to reach their second conference championship game in the team’s history, a contest that Bethel would also start against Carolina.

Forced to undergo offseason surgery approaching his fifth year in the big leagues, he would bounce back in a major way on New Year’s Day with a 66-yard interception return to the end zone in a 44-6 beatdown over the Los Angeles Rams.

Behind an input of 39 tackles and six pass deflections in the first year of his new deal, Bethel was named a starter at cornerback to begin a season for the first time in his career, promptly picking off his fourth career pass for an 82-yard score in the 2017 campaign’s opening quarter versus Detroit.

Atlanta Falcons & Baltimore Ravens (2018-19)

After posting 41 more stops in what turned out to be his final season with the Cardinals, Justin’s NFL path turned him towards a new franchise – the Atlanta Falcons – whom he signed with in March 2018. Bethel would appear in 14 outings for the NFC South rep before moving on to the Ravens organization the following year.

New England Patriots (2019-21)

Baltimore would part ways with the former Blue Hose in the middle of the 2019 season, however Bethel would immediately find a new home in the form of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, a squad which he signed a two-year contract with that was renewed in 2021.

In his first appearance for the Foxboro franchise, he recovered a muffed punt against his former club in a matchup with the Ravens, falling on another in a 34-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals during Week 15 of the ’19 campaign.

Miami Dolphins (2022-Pres.)

Bethel enjoyed a career resurgence in September 2022 when inking a new deal with Miami, a contract that was extended on March 24 of this year after picking up 26 tackles (his highest number in the past five seasons), not to mention his fifth NFL interception in a 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.