Seth Mathis’ brown hair looks to be about 10 inches long. But he has lost the race with his brother, Landon, whose hair has grown out to about a foot.

They’ve been able to keep tabs on each other’s hair length while dominating as linebackers in the Bethel defense. But soon they will be back to bald heads.

In 2009, their father, Don, was diagnosed with cancer. And, as a show of support, the Mathis brothers decided to grow their hair during his fight. Don Mathis had surgery in the fall of 2009 and remains cancer-free today. He also remains a fixture at Bethel games, as the Royals have reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Bethel, 11-0, will play host to North Central on Saturday.

“After every game he tells us how proud he is of us,” Seth Mathis said.

After watching their father beat cancer, the brothers could have cut their hair and moved on. But they came up with another idea. They decided to donate their hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss. They had to grow their hair out to a 10-inch ponytail to donate. And they are just about there.

The Mathis brothers, who played at Anoka High School, learned a lot about their father during his cancer fight.

“Right after he was diagnosed with cancer, he lost his job after 28 years with Wilson’s Leather,” Seth Mathis said. “They shut the building down, he didn’t get any severance. Two years he didn’t have a job.”

Seth and Landon have three other brothers and a sister, so there were challenging times.

“It was tough on him,” Landon Mathis said. “You could see it with him dealing with two devastating things in a row. But the amazing thing was that he did an excellent job of taking care of us. It was incredible to see. It taught that things were going to be hard in my life, too, and he was an example of how I can be and how I need to react in those situations.”

Seth, a senior, and Landon, a sophomore, have been forces in the middle of the Bethel defense this season. Seth leads the team with 124 tackles. Landon is next with 88. The two never played together in high school. It’s worked out for them with the Royals because Seth took a year off after high school before enrolling at Bethel.

“It’s an experience like no other,” Landon said of playing with his brother.

Royals coach Steve Johnson has an explosive offense, led by quarterback Erik Peterson — who hopes to recover from a shoulder injury in time to play on Saturday. But the Royals defense is fast and has several hard hitters, including the Mathis brothers.

“I feel like they are pretty sharp guys,” Johnson said. “They are humble guys. They are incredibly hard workers in that weight room. They are pretty talented. They can run and are powerful and they work for everything.”

On Saturday, they’ll jam their flowing locks into their helmets and try to help Bethel reach the semifinals. Their father will be in the stands, and they will be reminded of how he dealt with adversity — and remember how much he loves watching his sons play football.

“He’s got some serious resilience,” Seth Mathis said of his father. “Plus he raised six kids.”