Just a little over two years ago, no one would have blamed NFL players for
not knowing much about Antoine Bethea, a safety out of Howard University who was
selected by the Colts in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
But while working side-by-side with Bob Sanders as a starter in the Colts
secondary for the past two years, Bethea earned respect around the league
quickly -- along with a Super Bowl ring.
"Coming from Howard, it was unexpected," Bethea told Scout.com
during an exclusive interview. "The first year, winning that Super Bowl,
and then this last year going to the Pro Bowl, it's just a blessing. I hope good
things continue to happen for me."
That isn't to say that success has come easily for the soft-spoken safety. He
not only learned on the job as a starting free safety beginning in Week 1 of his
rookie season, he had to work his way back into playing shape before the
playoffs last season after suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly
"It was just friendly fire. We were running to the ball in the
Baltimore game and one of my teammates rolled up on my leg," he explained.
"I got it some good rest and good rehab and then I was back at it. Now it's
all healed up and I'm ready to get back out there one hundred percent."
With 111 tackles to his credit during his first two years, Bethea has shown
great skill as an open-field tackler. And last year the 5-foot-11, 203-pound
defender topped his three-interception rookie season, tying middle linebacker
Gary Brackett for the team lead in interceptions with four.
He credits the improvement to becoming more patient as a defender.
"When the plays come to you, you make the plays. You're not going out
there and trying to force them," he said. "I made sure to study all
week long, so I really knew what was going on, what to expect out there. It was
good to go out there and just play without thinking.
"I became a better player, learned a lot of things, and I'm looking
forward to getting back out there this year."
Bethea will be paired up with Sanders again, a man who has become both his
mentor and a friend. The hard-hitting veteran was scheduled to become a free
agent in 2008, but Indianapolis locked him up with a new contract well before
teams could even flirt with the idea of luring him away.
Antoine Bethea makes an interception on a pass intended for Patriots WR Donte' Stallworth in September, 2007.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Throughout the 2007 season, Bethea wasn't the least bit concerned that
Sanders would be wearing anything but the horseshoe again in 2008. And he was
happy about his teammate's good fortune on both a professional and personal
"I knew they wouldn't let Bob get out of there," he said. "Bob
is a skilled player and we're really happy for him that he got a great deal. When
you do so much together, it's sort of like your second family. He's a vet and a
person I look up to and try to play similar to.
"Off the field, we hang out, we chill, we go out to eat, we have fun. That's
the best thing, when you can be friends off the field, because then when you get
on the field it's easy to work together."
While Bethea and Sanders will anchor the safety spots for the Colts,
fourth-year cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden — the team's top two
picks in the 2005 NFL Draft — return as the starters at cornerback.
Bethea believes that NFL fans will see big things from the foursome this
"We all have one year under our belt as starters together, so we just
want to continue what we did last year," he said. "We're all physical,
so that's one thing we really want to hop on, just staying physical out there,
punishing receivers and running backs."
One of the reasons the Colts secondary continues to improve is due to the
quality of receivers they have to cover every day in practice,
such as Reggie Wayne, who caught 104 passes for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns
"Reggie's another player I look up to, what he brings to the game,
what he brings to the team. His work ethic really makes him special,"
Bethea said. "He leaves it out on the field every game and every play. He
comes out to practice everyday, he works out hard everyday. He just knows how to
get it done."
As the Colts prepare for their 2008 season, Bethea is now one of the young
veterans who this year's draft class is looking to for leadership and insight. And
while he's ready to help them any way that he can, he's really pumped up about the prospects for the team's defense since they are
returning all eleven starters.
"We all have to work together, but I think we got a lot of good things
done last year as a group," he said. "I'm really excited to get back
out there and see what we can do."
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features
are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email
through this link.