"Right now, he's probably more of a corner than a running back," said Bob Paroli of Douglas Byrd, the winningest active high school head football coach in North Carolina.
But Bethea (pronounced BUH' THEY, not BUH THEY UH') has other ideas. He's dedicated to play wherever the UNC coaches want him to, and he feels he has an oral commitment from Coach John Bunting to give him a legitimate look on offense.
"I asked straight up because I really want to play tailback," Bethea said. "I asked him, ‘Would I get the opportunity?'
"He said I would. That is all that I'm asking for, because once I am given that, I'm going to take advantage of it."
Which side of the ball Bethea will play in Chapel Hill may depend on attributes other than his size. He believes he needs to increase his speed. Bethea was last timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.45 seconds.
"I don't really consider myself a fast runner," Bethea said. "I want to get my footwork a little bit better."
Don't get this wrong. He's not a slug, mind you.
"He does have great quickness," Paroli said. "He has great vision. We've only coached two like him in the past 20 years."
Bethea is just looking to improve every day and become the best player he can be. He understands college ball will bring new challenges.
Strength is not an issue. Bethea can dead lift 600 pounds. But Paroli said that gaining about 15 pounds would make him even more durable and desirable at running back.
"A lot of colleges like 200-pound running backs, and he is not one," Paroli said. "He's 175 pounds, but he is a tough kid.
"Once he gets in [UNC's] strength program and eats at their training table and gains 15 pounds -- and he could easily carry 15 pounds -- he would be a fine running back."
Bethea has excelled in one of the state's toughest leagues, the Mid-Southeastern 4-A Conference. His 249 yards rushing led the twelfth-seeded Eagles to a 38-8 upset of fourth-seeded Greenville Rose in the second round of the state playoffs.
Bethea followed up a league-best 1,359 yards last season with 1,660 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2002.
"I try to get as many yards as possible," Bethea said. "I'll run any way I need to -- east, west, north or south -- whatever it calls for."
Bethea has all the attributes of an athlete and competitor, Paroli said: "He is what we call a wartime tailback. If you get into the fourth quarter and you need an 80- or 90-yard drive, he's not going to run away from anyone. He's going to take it toward the goal line. He's always going forward."
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…