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Coach Mike Jasper, Sports as a Catalyst to Change

By Karen Forester
Posted 3/7/23

As he was growing up, there were many teachers and coaches who had a positive impact on Mike Jasper, Head Football Coach at Bethel University, but his mother provided the strongest source of support and encouragement. “Mom used to say ‘by book or by ball or both’ you’re going to succeed,” he recalls with a smile, “she is my hero and played a huge role in my life as a mom, a dad and an inspiration.”

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Coach Mike Jasper, Sports as a Catalyst to Change


As he was growing up, there were many teachers and coaches who had a positive impact on Mike Jasper, Head Football Coach at Bethel University, but his mother provided the strongest source of support and encouragement. “Mom used to say ‘by book or by ball or both’ you’re going to succeed,” he recalls with a smile, “she is my hero and played a huge role in my life as a mom, a dad and an inspiration.”

Mike was born in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, a few miles east of Nashville, and raised by his mother, Rev. Dr. Claire Jasper-Crafter. Even though she was a young, single mom who worked full time, she made sure her son received the best education possible alongside his love of sports. “Mom was phenomenal; she never pushed anything on me and always allowed me to enjoy life and sports,” he said.

He remembers how his mom came to realize he might be well suited for sports. “We were at a store one day and this police officer asked her if I would be interested in boxing for the Police Athletic League. I was four at the time. Later, she said, ‘Well, if he thought you were eight, we better get you started playing some sports.’”

Mike was a natural athlete who excelled in football, basketball, baseball, wrestling and track and field throughout his school years. “I always played at least three sports my entire life ,” he said. When he wasn’t playing for his schools, there was the Old Hickory Bulldogs football team, the Old Hickory Community Center basketball team and the Lakewood baseball team. “I remember lots of times leaving one practice and going straight to another, I loved it.”

After graduating from Mt. Juliet High School in 2005, Mike signed with UT Martin to play football. “I had some offers from SEC schools, but didn’t have the grade point average,” said Mike. For the next two seasons, he started every game with the Skyhawks as a defensive tackle or sometimes as a right offensive tackle. In 2006, his sophomore year, the team won the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) championship.

Mike transferred to Middle Tennessee State University after the 2006 season, but had to sit out. “I was partying too much, hanging out with the wrong crowd and making unwise decisions,” he remembers, “I wasn’t living right off the field or taking care of myself and didn’t play with the 2007 team.”

It was during this time that Alan Hollowell, a recruiter for Bethel University, began talking to Mike and eventually convinced him to transfer. “I didn’t know it at the time, but Alan opened the door for me to have a fresh start, he stayed the course with me. Not long after Mike arrived in McKenzie, then Police Chief Harris “pulled me into his office and read my rap sheet. He said, ‘I know who you are, Mike, but I want you to know your past does not define you.’ That was huge for me,” he remembers.

Even though he was ineligible to play in the 2008 season, he worked out with the team every day and began to get his body in shape to play football once more. He names many Bethel coaches, administrators and faculty who “poured into me good things and I began to get my head on straight again.”

Some NFL scouts started coming around as the team worked out during the off season. They came, initially, to see Antonio Wardlow, an outstanding safety who transferred to Bethel from UT Knoxville. “But while they were there, they noticed this big old defensive tackle and started watching me. Matt Hand, a scout for the Buffalo Bills, remembered watching me play as a freshman and made the connection,” he said.

Mike began the 2009 season playing defense, but Coach Brent Dearmon moved him to the offensive line after a few games. Later that year, he injured his knee and was not able to play as much.

As Bethel’s 2010 football season rolled around, Mike was physically and mentally ready to go. He played very well. Well enough that professional scouts were considering him as a draft pick. In particular Matt Hand with the Buffalo Bills and Ryan Holloran with the New Orleans Saints had frequent conversations with Mike and his agent.

Still, when NFL Draft Day rolled around in April 2011, Mike had no expectations. “My mom and I used to watch the draft every year, so it was a tradition with us. On this day, we were watching along with my grandmother, brother and best friend. All of a sudden, the phone rang and it was Matt Hand. I thought, ‘well, he’s just calling to say I didn’t get drafted.”’ Turns out, it was an offer from the Buffalo Bills and Mike was stunned. “Matt passed the phone to Buddy Nix, the general manager at the time, and then I could hear the owner, Ralph Wilson, in the background. I was just, like, wow!” Mike was the first-ever Wildcat drafted to the NFL.

The week after Mike was drafted, the NFL team owners declared a lockout as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement ground to a halt. “For the next three months, there was radio silence. I went from a college draft pick to one of the players at odds with the NFL. I didn’t hear a word from anyone until mid-July when things started back.”

During those three months, Mike worked out at Solus Performance Training Center in Jackson, Tennessee, with Nick Stamper, a professional strength training coach; Artis Hicks, a Jackson native who played for the Washington Commanders (formerly Redskins), Casey McGehee, of the Milwaukee Brewers and other professional athletes.

When the 2011 season did kick off, Mike played on the practice squad until he was activated for the last five regular season games. “When you’re on the practice squad, you prepare like you were playing in the game. In scrimmages, we were always the other team, but still getting our reps in.”

While in Buffalo, he met his future wife, Allison, who was the Director of Community Relations with the team at the time. Her dad, David Hojknowski, was the Equipment Manager for the Bills. Both would become important people in his life.

After the 2011 season, the Bills released Mike and he was picked up by the Tennessee Titans the next day, but released a few weeks later. He decided to go with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League (UFL) led by Head Coach Bart Andrus and Defensive Line Coach Rex Norris. “I really enjoyed the playing time and experience. We were a loaded team, really unique in that all of the players on our starting d-line except one had been NFL players.”

In the midst of this, Mike was finishing his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Bethel and graduated in 2012. He signed with the New York Giants that same year and got in a full off-season with the team, but was released after the third pre-season game.

He was picked up by the Carolina Panthers in 2013. With nagging injuries and a desire to move on to the next phase of his life, Mike decided to retire from professional football in 2014.

He moved back to Nashville and began working as an account manager with GCS Services Group, a national provider of facilities services. “After a couple years, a transfer to New Orleans and back to Nashville along with several promotions, I realized what I really wanted to do was coach.”

His first coaching job was with Alfred State College in western New York in 2015, but unfortunately, the job was defunded a few months later. He accepted another coaching position with Bishop-Timon High School in Buffalo, New York, and knew he had found his calling.

But there was more to come. Alan Hollowell, his former recruiter and now good friend, “got me back to Bethel for the second time when he offered me the Offensive Coordinator position for the 2016 football season.” Over the next few years, Mike was the Offensive Line Coach, the Run-Game Coordinator and the Strength and Conditioning Coach until 2018 when Coach Brent Dearmon offered him the Assistant Head Coach position.”

When Dearmon left Bethel in 2019 to accept a senior offensive analyst position with the Kansas Jayhawks under Les Miles, Mike was named Head Coach. “I wasn’t truly ready, but I knew the off-season program was essential to developing a winning team. That’s when we began to build our culture.”

Mike credits much of his success to the care and concern others showed him as a young man finding his way. “I want the young men and women who enter my program to leave a better person than how they came in because that’s what happened to me,” said Mike.

Mike led the Wildcats to an undefeated regular season this past year with an 11-0 record. The Cats qualified for the NAIA Championship series, but were beaten in the first round. Mike was named Mid-South Conference Football Coach of the Year this past season. After four seasons as Head Coach, he has a 26-15 record and The Wildcats are 17-12 in league play during his tenure.

Brad Chappell, Athletic Director of Bethel University recalls, “I first met Mike in the spring of 2011. I was teaching ‘The Psychology of Coaching’ at Bethel and Mike was in my class. At that time he was preparing for the NFL draft. I remember that Mike always had excellent questions and thoughtful responses. Unbeknownst to either of us at the time, we found ourselves both back at Bethel in different roles not too long after that.

Fast forward to 2019. Mike is an assistant coach for our football team and I am in search of a head football coach to lead our program. While I certainly did my due diligence in that process, I wanted Mike from the get go. I had recognized in him an eagerness to learn, but also a passion for coaching young men. During the time I have known Mike, I have been thrilled to watch him grow, mature, and evolve as both a football coach, a family man, and a friend.”

Mike and his wife, Allison, live in McKenzie and have three children, Davis, 2, and twins Millie and Sam, seven months. Their beloved rescue dog is named Caine.


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