Kyle Bjornethun has fully embraced what it means to be a student-athlete at Seattle University.
As a defender on the men’s soccer team and as a mechanical engineering major, he made time between classes, practice, training, travel, and game days to sit down and reflect on his time at Seattle U.
Bjornethun is humble and personable. He wants to talk, but gets a little more reserved when he is asked about his own accomplishments. But, after class and between sips from his water bottle, Bjornethun told his story.
He has always lived in the Seattle area, growing up in Snohomish in a house his parents moved into just one year before he was born, and remaining there until just recently. He went to high school at Glacier Peak, and from there, knew he would be staying close to home.
Bjornethun looked at schools like Seattle U, the University of Washington, and some others in Oregon and California.
“There were obviously a bunch of different factors that went into it like school and soccer, but distance was always kind of a thing,” Bjornethun said. “Being close to family and them being able to watch me play, because I knew I was going to be playing soccer, that was definitely a huge part of it.”
Bjornethun’s father played soccer at Seattle Pacific, winning a National Championship with the Falcons, but Bjornethun never felt pressure to go there, although he knew it was an option.
He also had to start making choices athletically, since he also played tennis in high school, and basketball and baseball before that. Slowly, he started cutting down his sports.
His dad told him, “I’ll support you in whatever you do, just make sure it’s whatever you love the most.”
“I think my dad and mom both just pushed the best thing for me, and Seattle U was a good option,” Bjornethun said.
When it came down to it, two main factors weighed heavily on Bjornethun’s decision to choose Seattle U.
First and foremost, he wanted to pursue engineering.
His father, a Boeing employee, is the one who planted the seed.
“He’s always said that the way my mind works, the way I think…he sees me as an engineer,” Bjornethun said. “That played a lot into (the decision to do engineering) just because I respect my dad and his view means a lot to me.”
The other factor was soccer.
Head coach Pete Fewing was back at the helm of the Seattle U men’s soccer program during Bjornethun’s senior year of high school. Bjornethun had already been recruited by the previous head coach, but then, there was a shift.
“I already liked the campus, but wasn’t quite sure,” Bjornethun remembers. “Then, when I heard about Pete and started talking to him more, it was easy. He’s a super relatable person. I knew I wanted someone who would be a good leader. You’re with the team a lot, and as a student-athlete, you definitely want someone that’s going to lead you in a positive way, and I knew it was going to be like that with Pete.”
Bjornethun’s transition to college, he admits, wasn’t as hard for him as it is for some people.
The biggest transition? The freedom.
“It was just weird having more freedom, and controlling that freedom and what to do with it, because when you’re in college, you can make really your own decisions,” Bjornethun said.
But he still leaned on his family for support.
During the season was more difficult, but Bjornethun said he still would try to go back to Snohomish every once in a while for a home cooked meal.
On top of that, he has his two older sisters who live in Seattle – one eight years older and one four years older – who he is close to.
The oldest sister went to UW, the middle sibling went to SPU, and then Bjornethun chose Seattle U.
“So we all have the spread of Seattle schools,” Bjornethun said with a laugh.
Being able to see them throughout his time in college has made it easier to balance everything.
Bjornethun added with a big, proud smile, “And my older sister just had a baby and I became an uncle, and just being able to watch her grow up has made it easier.”
His sisters and their husbands live in the same triplex, “so whenever I want to go see them it’s like a 2-for-1,” Bjornethun joked.
Talking about his family was easy. The stories rolled off his tongue and he couldn’t help smiling throughout.
Talking about soccer became a bit more serious, and his athletic accomplishments made him shift a bit in his seat.
Bjornethun was Fewing’s first recruit when he took the program over again, and he’s been a solid presence on the field during his time at Seattle U.
“It’s hard for me to think of myself in that way,” Bjornethun said. “I try to be a humble person and try not to put myself on a pedestal.”
Watch him on the field or even just take a look at his bio, and it’s obvious how good he is. From First Team All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC), to WAC All-Tournament Team, to WAC Defender of the Year (twice), to NSCAA Second Team All-American, to being named to the MAC Hermann Watch List, the awards and honors go on. Accolades he obviously deserves.
“It means a lot,” Bjornethun said. “I have gotten a lot of awards and stuff, but I just kind of (hide them). None of the awards I get I display up in my room.”
He says all of this quite sheepishly. He’s proud of his accomplishments and he appreciates the recognition, but he doesn’t need it.
“Definitely, I appreciate them, but I just try to play the same way I’ve played, and that’s always helped me do well,” Bjornethun said.
He feels like he doesn’t need to display them because he needs to continue to work hard. Those awards aren’t the end goal for him.
His view goes in line with what Fewing tells his team about rankings.
“Last year, we were ranked, and he always said, ‘the rankings are for everyone else, they’re not for us,’” Bjornethun said. “We try not to let those get to our heads.”
However, as much as he doesn’t let awards affect his play, there is one award that stands out the most to him.
At the end of the 2015 season, Bjornethun was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s a huge one for me,” Bjornethun said. “Being a center back, that one means a lot to me because a lot of times defenders never get a lot of the glory, so that’s nice to have.”
Bjornethun also won the same award at the end of the 2016 season to cap off his senior year.
His athletic accomplishments have helped grow his love for the game, and made him think that he won’t be quite ready to give up the sport when college is over. His priority shifted from getting a job in mechanical engineering right away, to taking some time to finish what he’s started.
“It’s made me realize, maybe I am good enough to play at the next level,” Bjornethun said. “My degree will always be there, but soccer and my body won’t always hold up.”
So he continues to balance both.
Making time for school can be difficult when he’s busy being a major contributor to the soccer program, but it’s important to him that he spends equal time on both.
“A lot of time in the library,” Bjornethun said with a laugh of how he balances everything. “I also have really good friends that are engineers, and I do a lot of studying with them. Having Medo (Youseff) on the team who’s also an engineering major is really nice; being able to catch up on notes with him and when we’re travelling together we do homework.”
The way the conference was set up for the 2016 season added an extra element. The team bounced back and forth, travelling from home to away games more often than past seasons, causing Bjornethun to miss more school than he said he ever had previously.
“That being said, the teachers here I think are super helpful,” Bjornethun said. “The professors work with us a lot.”
Between soccer and school, Bjornethun doesn’t have time for much else. Those two things consume his life. But for him, that’s fine.
“I have put a lot of time into my school, and that’s something I want to be proud of,” Bjornethun said. “At the end of the day, whatever I do after this, whether I try to play soccer, I’ve worked so hard to get my engineering degree from Seattle U, I’m going to finish it.”
He has found various ways to relax when he’s starting to feel stressed or overwhelmed by it all.
Bjornethun plays the piano and guitar, and he said that sometimes at night he’ll play his guitar, which takes away a lot of stress.
He also makes lists of everything he needs to do. He’s organized like that.
At the beginning of every quarter, Bjornethun makes an Excel spreadsheet, and color codes it with all of his classes and practices because he likes having things visually mapped out. Practice is blue, and each class in school is a different color.
Everything has been settling into place for Bjornethun, and that’s something he hadn’t noticed until he started looking back.
“When I chose this school, I was happy with it, but I was like, ‘am I really at the right place?’ Over the past few years, I’m like, yes, I’m at the right place. I’m where I should be,” Bjornethun said. “I’m super happy in Seattle, I picked the right degree, my teammates, my coaches, friends. I have definitely had the best scenario for myself.”
Bjornethun has been major part of the growth of the program, and is leaving it to the next generation of Seattle U men’s soccer student-athletes to continue to build upon.
He’s leaving it in good hands.
“I know how much potential this team has, I know how much skill each of the guys on our team has, and not just whatever the starting 11 is on the field, we’re so deep, too,” Bjornethun said. “We love each other more than the other guys…something that will carry our talent even further than teams that could be individually better than us is that we are a brotherhood, and we look out for each other and we care about each other.”
Bjornethun wants to see the program win a National Championship at the Division I level. That’s his main goal for them.
But he also wants to make sure the student-athletes on the team are remembered for more than what they do on the field.
“I think we’re that (program) that can leave a good impression on people other than our soccer,” Bjornethun said. “It’s a natural thing of what we’ve been taught and how we’ve been really raised these past few years.”
He wants the guys in the program to continue getting compliments from hotel staff and flight attendants for being well behaved young men, who also happen to play soccer.
“A student-athlete isn’t just some dude who never comes to class and who only cares about themselves and their sport,” Bjornethun said. “No. It’s so much more.”
He has the same hopes of how he wants the program to be remembered as how he personally wants to be remembered after he’s graduated.
“I want to be remembered for being just as good of an athlete as I was a student here. For being great on the field and then off the field also,” Bjornethun said.