Dressed out in blue and gold, Jaran Roste took the field for Bethel University as a standout football player. Looking at his highlights on YouTube, it’s easy to be impressed. Large gains in yardage, solid speed, and a handful of touchdown celebrations—which he gets to use a lot. But what if it was true that he never saw himself in this position? “Football was not in the plans until my junior year of high school,” Roste says. “At that time, I was pretty good at basketball and was talking to some Division II schools and figuring out where I was going to go for that.”
However, during his senior year at Alexandria Area High School in Minnesota, his skill was noticeable on the gridiron. He was a Mr. Football finalist, all-state, all-conference, all-section, a DECA International finalist and academic all-state. And when that type of talent is on display, opportunities start to arise. “The hometown, state school, the University of Minnesota came knocking and offered me a preferred walk-on,” Roste shares. “So, when that opportunity came, I couldn’t pass it up and really started to pour more attention into football.”
It was a dream in the making, or so he thought. Roste spent one season playing for the Golden Gophers and while grateful for the opportunity, he says, “It was just a lot [with] how much attention and how much effort and time was spent on football, and it really took away from the other things that I wanted to do with school and with life.”
So, he decided to transfer. But even before entering the transfer portal, he knew where he wanted to play. Because of a long-standing relationship with a head coach, the decision was easy. He’d play for the Bethel University Royals. It was the people, the culture and the sense of community that made him feel at home. “For me, it wasn’t even a football piece, it was just a life piece,” he says with pride in his voice.
While on campus, he quickly became involved with Special Olympics. Working with the BUILD program at Bethel University as a student, he is now a full-time employee. The BUILD program is designed to provide a supportive and comprehensive educational experience for students with intellectual disabilities. Students will get instruction, along with a career-oriented curriculum, and mentorship while they’ll live on campus, getting the full college experience.
During Roste’s undergraduate days, he wanted to have a much bigger impact with the students so that’s why he connected with Special Olympics Minnesota athletes at Bethel. “I was a student-athlete at Bethel. I worked with students with intellectual disabilities at Bethel; it just seemed like a perfect fit,” he says. After playing with the Unified teams on campus for a few years, he joined Special Olympics Minnesota as a student-athlete ambassador. Unified Sports brings individuals with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team and now they could count on one of Bethel's finest to advance the mission of Special Olympics.
Zak Armstrong, the College, and Transition Programs Manager for Special Olympics Minnesota, had developed the idea of student athlete ambassadors because of the introduction of NIL across the college landscape. Name, Image, and Likeness allows college athletes to profit off themselves and Armstrong knew there was potential there to use it.
“They [student athletes] were able to talk with corporate sponsors, or whoever they wanted about sponsorships and just representing them with the brand and I thought it’d be a great way for Special Olympics Minnesota to dip their toes into that,” Armstrong says.
Several student athlete ambassadors from colleges across Minnesota were part of the 2022-2023 class and have worked diligently to promote the mission of Special Olympics on their campus. In doing so, they’ve participated in volunteer opportunities, provided social media help, and more. In return, the student-athletes received fun incentives like apparel and access to VIP events.
In the program's second year, Roste loves that he gets to participate in more events. Not only did he take part in Unified events, but he has had the opportunity to give speeches at Special Olympics Minnesota’s Winter Games Opening Ceremony. To have a greater involvement and more of a voice in the community is exactly why Roste felt that Bethel was a perfect fit. Adding Special Olympics just completed that want.
Connecting his passion for the organization’s mission with his passion for football has been more rewarding than Roste could have even imagined. During a recent Special Olympics Minnesota flag football clinic, Roste led the quarterback station.
“It allows me to use my platform as an athlete to share with others what Special Olympics is about and sharing what inclusion means and advocating for people with intellectual disabilities,” Roste says. “It’s really enabled me to use my platform to fight for change.”
Having fulfilled his athletic eligibility, Special Olympics Minnesota had decided to keep Roste on as a student-athlete ambassador throughout the school year. And with Roste working full-time for the BUILD program, that relationship doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.