Above photo: R.J. Haberer (No. 7) runs onto the field for Bethany College (Photo courtesy of R.J. Haberer)
BELTON- As July turned into August, RJ Haberer arrived in Belton. The tight end is one of a number of offensive transfers joining the Cru for the 2022 season. But Haberer has a distinction. He is a graduate transfer, one of only a few such transfers in recent memory with Crusader football program.
Coming from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, the 6’3, 240 lb standout brings with him prior collegiate experience, a sense of maturity, and pursuit of a dream that he has followed since his early years growing up on a farm in Luray, Kansas. Haberer has fought through ups and downs since high school, tearing his ACL as a senior, and dealing with a coaching staff that was constantly changing in college. But it has been worth it. And he is focused on making the most of his final collegiate season with the Cru in 2022.
True To The Cru caught up with Haberer a week ago, just four days after his arrival in Belton, to discuss playing eight-man football in high school, his initial reaction to Crusader Stadium, his expectations for 2022, and much more, in this edition of “Catching up with the Commits.”
Graduate transfers aren’t all that common at the D-III level. What brought you to UMHB?
RH: “I knew for a long time that I wanted to get my master’s and that was something I couldn’t do at the school I graduated from. I knew I was going to have to transfer. It was a small school in Kansas and we didn’t have a lot of success in the four years that I was there. I went through three head coaches, four offensive coordinators and six receivers coaches, so the program’s stability and tradition here [at UMHB] is definitely something that drew me in. When I did my research, I would first look at the school and see if they had my master’s, which is in Sports Administration, and UMHB had that. So I reached out to Coach [Jack] Johnson, and we went from there. It wasn’t a long recruiting process this time. After not having as much success as I wanted at Bethany, it was a pretty easy decision to come here. I love the program and that it is faith-built. I wanted to be a part of it.”
Were you able to visit the campus and get a feel for the atmosphere before making your decision?
RH: “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it down [prior to my commitment]. I just got down for the first time on Tuesday, and I’ve made it to campus a couple of times and I love it there. It’s a great atmosphere even without students on campus. I love the whole feel of the place.”
What do you think of Crusader Stadium?
RH: “It’s an amazing sight. It’s completely different from any stadium I ever played in during my time in Kansas. It’s a beautiful stadium. I can’t wait to get in there and get the feel of it with all the fans there.”
I imagine with it being your final season of college football, there is a mentality to simply make the most of this last fall, regardless of how it plays out. Is that your perspective?
RH: “That’s my goal, in and of itself. The goals of winning a national championship and a conference championship are always there. No matter where you’re playing. As far as expecationas, my expectations are to work hard for the team and have everybody’s back, and hopefully they’ll have mine as well.”
Although your team didn’t have the success you all necessarily wanted during your time at Bethany, you certainly seemed to grow as a player (21 receptions, 320 yds, 2 TDs in 2021). What did you take away from your years there?
RH: “It was a good spot for me to grow as a person and as a player. It was local to home, which is something I was looking for, because I knew I wanted my family to be able to be at the games and all of that. It was definitely an adjustment, because the high school that I went to was a small 1A school in Kansas, and I played quarterback and linebacker on an eight-man football team. Just relearning the game as an 11-man sport has been an adjustment, but putting in the time and learning everything I can has paid off.”
Bethany College Highlights: https://www.hudl.com/profile/11358475/Rudolph-RJ-Haberer
Down here in Texas, 1A schools play six-man football. What was the adjustment like going from eight-man to 11-man?
RH: “As far as technicalities of the sport, they’re way different. Eight-man is much more of flying around, going to the ball and making plays when you can, but in 11-man, it’s more about playing your role. That’s something I had to find in my time at Bethany, being able to do my job as well as I can, which is something you want to do at whatever level you’re playing at. That was something I really took pride in [at Bethany], sitting down and figuring out concepts and learning our offensive schemes.”
You mentioned you played quarterback in high school. What went into the position switch to tight end?
RH: “It was pretty immediate when I got there. My freshman year of high school, I actually played tight end as well; obviously it’s a little different in eight-man. When Bethany was recruiting me, they said they’d recruit me as an athlete, and let me pick when I got there. I ended up getting in the weight room and putting on some weight after coming back from an ACL tear my senior year of high school, so they just stuck me at tight end. I was just happy to be part of the program and part of college football. It was one of my dreams.”
As you’ve grown in your skill set at tight end, has there been anything you’ve been continuing to work on?
RH: “Blocking is definitely something that I’ve had to work on. Receiving has come somewhat naturally; I’ve always had a ball in my hand. I played baseball, football and basketball in high school as well. I had pretty good hand-eye coordination and enjoyed playing catch all the time with my dad growing up. So receiving wasn’t that big of an issue, but blocking is something I’ve been growing into and continuing to work on.”
Your hometown of Luray, Kansas, has a population of around 166. With that considered, how big was it for you to get an opportunity to play in college? I wouldn’t imagine a town that small produces a high number of college athletes.
RH: “No they don’t. I was actually the first one since my defensive coordinator in high school [who came back after playing at Bethany College] graduated in 2011. We don’t have Hudl or anything; the school doesn’t have that much money. So my dad filmed all of my games that I had during high school and I went in and chopped the film up. I made my own highlight tape and sent it to all the coaches that I could. I only got a few responses back, but you only need one to play at the college level. It took that opportunity and did what I could with it.”
How do you think the challenges you faced; coming out of a small high school, having to make the adjustment to 11-man football, going through a coaching staff that changed every year, has shaped you today?
RH: “Growing up on a farm, it’s always been ‘Keep your nose down and work hard’ and find an opportunity. It’s never about how big an opportunity or how many you get, it’s just about finding that one and taking advantage of it. Making sure you do everything you can to be prepared for when that opportunity comes.”
Last one for you, but what are your goals entering this fall?
RH: “Personally, my goals are to get as much playing time and serve the team however I can. I know that UMHB had a great tight end graduate last year, and that was one of the things that enticed me, was knowing they had an open spot. I’m just going to do everything I can to be ready for when the opportunity comes.”