Vandal Football Player Is Giving Back
Vandal Linebacker Nominated to Join National Community Service Team
As a boy, Mathias Bertram volunteered at annual St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage dinners.
The feasts were fundraisers for a local homeless shelter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Bertram and his brother, Ben, grew up.
The Bertram brothers, both defensive players on the Vandal football team, took roundabout paths to carve out positions on the Silver and Gold’s gridiron squad, and this year Mathias was nominated by his head coach to the national Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Award winners are announced in September.
The nomination isn’t a reflection of Mathias’ enthusiasm, or his good works between the goal posts — he racked up 74 tackles last season, a tackle for loss and two passes defended. Instead, it reflects number 31’s community service, nationally and internationally.
And it all started serving corned beef and cabbage as a kid.
Started with Corned Beef and Cabbage
“I began doing that when I was six years old, and I served at every St. Patrick’s Day dinner all through high school,” Bertram said.
“The people I volunteer to serve help me more than I help them.”
— Mathias Bertram, Marketing Major with Entrepreneurship Emphasis and football player
If he were chosen for the award, Bertram would be among 22 student athletes — 11 offensive players and 11 defense players — in the country to receive the Allstate AFCA nod. But it’s not for the kudos that Bertram seeks out volunteer opportunities.
“I like doing it. I like helping others, and to be honest, I often feel that the people I volunteer to serve help me more than I help them,” said the 6-1, 210-pound defender.
On a mission trip last year to Peru, organized by a U of I Catholic group, FOCUS, Mathias built concrete stairs on the steep hillsides of impoverished communities surrounding Lima, the nation’s capital.
“Those towns are built into the side of arid mountains, and it’s difficult for people, especially elderly people, to get around and perform daily tasks without the aid of stairs. The stairs make them more mobile,” Mathias said.
The group also finished concrete stands at a children’s soccer court.
The mission trip won’t be his last, Bertram says, but until he gets another chance to travel overseas, he’s focusing on work closer to home. As part of an entrepreneurial internship — Bertram is majoring in marketing with an entrepreneurship emphasis — he is starting a nonprofit, called Peter's Paycheck, to support for-profit businesses that want to employ people with special needs.
That means Bertram, after his morning football practices, and before the afternoon schedule kicks in, walks to his apartment, turns on his laptop and works on a business plan for the company, posts social media, helps the business assign a board of directors, file for articles of incorporation, transfer assets and file for the 501(c)(3) status that will finalize the transaction.
The unemployment rate of the disabled community is 34%, Bertram said, significantly higher than the unemployment rates for individuals without a disability.
“We can help them find jobs, which really brings a lot of meaning to their lives,” Bertram said.
Bertram attended Fork Union Military Academy after finishing high school in Albuquerque to shore up his gridiron skills. He earned a chance to walk on at his hometown team, the University of New Mexico Lobos, where he joined the roster for two seasons before being encouraged by new Vandal Coach Jason Eck to jump to Idaho.
“It was kind of a roundabout journey, but I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I wanted to finish my college career playing on the same team as my brother.”
And Eck is glad he came.
On the Gridiron
In last year’s Battle of the Palouse against the Washington State Cougars, Bertram forced two fumbles, and the Vandals came to within a score of beating the Cougs. The black and gold lost the latest contest 24-17 in overtime. It was the closest the Vandals came to defeating the Cougars since 2005.
Eck, a member of the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, said he nominated his red shirt defensive back because of Bertram’s continual involvements with charities.
“He has been involved in charitable activities since his youth,” Eck said. “He worked in a homeless shelter in his hometown and that didn’t stop when he came to Idaho. He went on a mission trip to Peru, he works with the Vandal Catholic Club and has immersed himself in the University of Idaho community donating his money and time to help causes in the area.”
Bertram said he was named after an Irish-Catholic Brother in Albuquerque who started a homeless shelter but died before Bertram was born. Mathias Barrett was known for showing up to events without shoes, Bertram said. When questioned why, the brother explained that he gave his shoes to a homeless person on his way over.
“I have often pondered what my legacy will be,” Bertram said. “I know this; it is forever connected to a man who spent his life serving others, and I hope to do the same.”