Steven Bethley stood outside Montana State’s football offices on Tuesday afternoon and asserted that his squad is both rejuvenated after a bye and primed for the season’s stretch run.
It didn’t take long, however, for the conversation to shift toward the soft-spoken, hard-hitting safety’s right hand and the cumbersome cast encasing his thumb and wrist.
“I feel good,” the senior said, flashing a smile and twiddling his free digits. “I still have these four fingers to use, and my whole other hand. It could be a lot worse.”
Bethley tore ligaments in his thumb in the early stages of Sept. 28’s victory in North Dakota. Admittedly, the pain has been severe at times, but the Chino, Calif., native has managed to stay on the field — and off the injury report.
Sitting out was never an option.
Two days after Oct. 5’s 36-7 homecoming win over Northern Arizona, Bethley said he underwent surgery to reattach the ligaments to the bone.
The stitches were removed Monday, and Bethley was fitted with a cast he will likely wear for the next four to six weeks.
“I’ll have this on basically until ’Cat-Griz,” he said.
“He doesn’t seem worried about it one bit,” Bobcats secondary coach Brandon North added. “This is his senior year. He’s going to play until they pull him off the field.”
Bethley landed on his hand after chasing down and tackling North Dakota wide receiver Kenny Golladay in the opening quarter of Sept. 28’s matchup in Grand Forks. Despite initially thinking he had dislocated his thumb, Bethley was examined, bandaged and headed back onto the field.
Soon after returning to Bozeman, he said he received the official diagnosis and learned surgery was necessary.
Before that, however, Bethley was fitted with a cast and was in the starting lineup against NAU.
“It was a little tough. I was kind of just trying to get used to (the cast), but I didn’t get much action; they run, and our front seven just stopped them completely,” Bethley said. “But on the times I was in on the play, it was all about getting used to tackling without being able to grab and close my fist. … I was able to catch the ball and stuff, but I didn’t have any wrist rotation, either.”
North did not witness any dip in Bethley’s productivity — save for one sure interception that wound up bounding off the padding on his standout’s hand and hitting the turf.
“He made a great play on the ball. … He went out, high-pointed the ball and did everything that we coach. It was perfect technique,” North said. “The only thing you can really do is try and body catch it. … Situations like that, they may come up or they may not. I think he’s tackling just fine.”
The 2012 honorable mention All-Big Sky performer has produced 16 solo tackles, broken up three passes and intercepted one during Sept. 21’s road loss to Stephen F. Austin.
The Bobcats’ secondary has shown marked improvement in subsequent weeks. It largely grounded North Dakota’s passing attack and neutralized Greg Hardin, one of the Big Sky’s most dynamic playmakers, holding the senior without a catch.
One week later, the MSU defense limited Kyren Poe to 168 yards through the air on just 24-of-44 passing and kept the Lumberjacks’ offense at bay; the visitors’ lone score came courtesy of Austin Hasquet’s 37-yard interception return.
While they fell just short of their second shutout of the season, the Bobcats (4-2 overall, 2-0 Big Sky) can take solace in the fact they remain unbeaten in conference play and have logged consecutive wins for the first time this fall.
Next up is a visit to struggling Weber State on Saturday.
While he may be somewhat limited, No. 1 will be on the field in Ogden, Utah.
It will be a welcome sight for North.
“That’s huge,” the coach said. “He brings great leadership to the table being a (three-year) starter. He’s had a ton of playing time and the knowledge he’s gained over the years is hard to replace, especially on the back line.”
Jon Maletz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2601. Follow him on Twitter @jmaletz.