MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—Four years ago in the season opener against Alabama, Al-Rasheed Benton made his debut with West Virginia. Nick Kwiatkoski was rattled on a play and had to go out for one snap. Benton replaced him and he was beaten on his very first collegiate snap.
“They ran the ball,” he said. “We yelled it. I jumped the gap and I was too slow to get there. That’s when I realized you got some work to do freshman.”
Work was exactly what the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder did. For the last four years, no one can deny that Benton gave his all.
“Al, being here for five years and putting the blood, sweat and tears into the program,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “He is just a great young man that will be missed. He is a great kid and I will miss him a lot.”
During his five years with the Mountaineers, Benton achieved numerous accomplishments. In 2016, he started in all 13 games and finished second on the team in tackles with 80.
This season the senior is the heart of the young WVU defense. He has 84 tackles, 58 solo tackles, and 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions.
However, Benton means more to the Mountaineer defense than what he exemplifies on the turf. He is a leader on and off the field, a good teammate and a mentor.
If it is even a question about what Newark, N.J. native means to the program, that can be answered in the fact that WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff chose two captains for the entire season, senior fullback Elijah Wellman and Benton.
“I just take it as a great sign of respect,” Benton said. “It shows me that the work I’ve put in since I’ve been here, the relationship I’ve built with these coaches and my teammates hasn’t gone to waste. It shows me that they trust me. They respect the guy I am and that I am not afraid to go out there and be the first one to lead this team out to the field. I am not afraid to be the one to stand up when things are going wrong and things like that. I just take it with a great sign of respect and trust that this program has in me.”
Trust is exactly what the coaching staff saw in the linebacker.
My two guys are Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman, you guys know that,” Holgorsen said, “They are team captains and fifth-year seniors. Both are going to be graduating here in the next couple of months and moving on to pursue their dream of playing in the NFL, hopefully. I wish them a bunch of luck with that. Those guys have been the two main guys with this team.”
As Benton’s career comes to a close, he has grown into a man. He is the backbone of the defense and he has stayed humble during the process.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that you are never as good as you think you are,” Benton said. “Coming into college, everybody tells you how good you are coming out of high school. From my area not a lot of people actually went to Division I so being one of the guys that did, everybody tells you how great you are more.
“You get here and everybody is that man where they were at. You realize there is a lot of work to be done if you want to be the type of player you want to be. I ended up getting redshirted and that’s where the process started for me. I think it helped me mentally and physically as far as being a player, as far as being a person, the type of decisions I make, the type of people I hang with.”
On Saturday, Benton will lace up his cleats on final time at Mountaineer Field for the Mountaineer faithful.
“It’s just amazing to think of the process, to think of where I’ve come from,” he said. “I remember hitting the field on my first game so I know this will be a special one here at Mountaineer Field. This is my last one.”
Photo Credit: Ben Queens- USA TODAY SPORTS