Ketch's 10 Thoughts From the Weekend (Remembering Cedric Benson ...)
Someone just yelled my name, I remember thinking to myself, while walking west in the middle of the street just outside of The Library on 6th Street. Glancing around, I assumed there must have been a "Jeff with a J" out there on the streets and continued walking.
Again, I stopped. This time when I turned around, there was a young teenager wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers hat staring at me.
"It's me," he said a couple of feet from me.
In that moment, I clearly couldn't hide my cluelessness because he could see it in my eyes that I didn't have the foggiest idea who was standing in front of me.
"It's Cedric Benson," the teenager with wide eyes and an even wider smile said incredulously.
In an instant, it all clicked in my head and the two of us just lost ourselves in laughter over the moment. A mere 48 hours earlier, the two of us had been talking on the phone about his official visit to Texas, which loomed that weekend. One of the things we'd talked about that night was him trying to find me during his visit weekend for a chat and I had told him he'd almost certainly have other things on the visit that would distract him from looking for me like I was a needle in a haystack.
Somehow, he'd found me and when he did, I didn't even recognize him, despite the fact that we'd spoken with each other days early ... and despite the fact that I had interviewed him in person probably less than two weeks before that ... and despite the fact that he was probably one of the most famous 17 year-olds in the state of Texas.
Of all the reactions he could have had in the moment, Benson seemed to revel in the rare moment of anonymity. He loved it. In fact, it's a moment he reminded me of numerous times while I covered him during his all-America days with Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns.
"This will probably be the last time you ever walk on 6th Street and run into someone that won't recognize you," I joked.
In a flash, the smile went away. Without ever saying a word, I could see the discomfort that overtook his mind, body and soul, as he processed his return back into being the type of person that can only know anonymity in very small doses. In reality, this moment of resignation probably lasted only a few seconds before the smile returned to his face and we chatted for a few more minutes before going separate ways, but it was a moment that has stayed with me for almost two decades.
Upon hearing about the motorcycle accident that took his life on Saturday night, my first thought had nothing to do with any his countless conquests on the football field or any of the mistakes he made off of it over the years.
Instead, I thought about him as a young teenage boy, not quite ready for the pound of flesh that such a level of fame that he possessed at such a young age would take from him. I thought about the death threats he'd received as the last great old school West Texas football star, playing in the shadows of the post-Friday Night Lights world in which he resided in the late 1990s. I thought about the pressures he dealt with by being the most famous teenager in a state that was hypnotized by his high school running exploits. I wondered what it might have looked like for him without all of the notoriety.
With a little inspection, I suppose the reason this brief meeting stands out in my mind so much all these years later is that this was THE Cedric Benson. He did go on to have one of the greatest careers of any Texas running back that ever lived. He did go on to become a first-round draft pick. He did go on to play in the pros. He did have numerous off-field incidents that came to define him in the minds of some.
As someone that has strongly defended Benson for the better part of two decades, I'll admit that there were times when it was hard to defend him, nonetheless I tended to do it anyways because for every regrettable incident that received public attention, there were 100 other stories that didn't receive similar attention that were usually quite flattering. Those stories usually involved Benson giving time and energy to kids.
What's striking to me on the day of his passing, I've thought nothing of the thing that made him a household name - is football career.
Instead, I've thought about the kind of person he always showed himself to be to me and those that I know. I've thought about all of the layers that existed inside of him and how naturally open he always seemed to be in wanting people to know he wasn't a one-dimensional football player. I've thought about his mom, the love I'd seen on her face for him while he was still playing for Texas and the pain she must be in today. I've thought about the child he leaves behind. I've thought about our mutual friends and checked in on a few of them.
More than anything, I find myself thinking about that precocious smile of his that night back in December of 2000 and wishing that we could cross paths one more time so that we could laugh about the absurdity and irony of it all.
Rest in peace, Ced.
No. 2 - Those Midland Lee days...
Cedric Benson in high school had no equals— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) August 18, 2019
My goodness, what a football player.
In a world where you can't go to a Texas high school football game and not see the ball thrown 100+ times, it's almost impossible to believe the things that Benson used to do as a high school running back. In fact, upon 20 years of reflection, Benson was a bit of tyrannosaurus in the Texas High School history books, as he served as one the last great running game dinosaurs in the state before it turned into a seven-on-seven world of basketball on grass.
It has occurred to me that there's almost an entire generation of Texas football fans that won't remember the level of phenom Benson represented when he led Midland Lee to three state titles from 1998-2000.
Midland Lee was a hell of a football team, but the key to its success was its ability to run Benson behind a fantastic offensive line until the opponent's will gave out. Play after play after play, week after week after week, Benson would run into the teeth of opposing defense's souls and he would snatch them up over 48 minutes. All these years later, I can only recall a run play with Benson during those years ending in two ways - he either scored a touchdown or he punished some poor defensive back by putting his shoulder through him on the way to extra yards before going down.
It was rock'em, sock'em football and I've never seen anyone in the state of Texas do it better than those Midland Lee teams. Once upon a time, the best football in the state of Texas was played in what was called the Little Southwest Conference and Benson proved to be the final great chapter in the story before it died just like the Big Southwest Conference did a few years earlier.
Adrian Peterson might be the greatest running back prospect I've ever seen, but as someone that watched both in person during their high school years at least a half-dozen times, Cedric Benson was three times the high school player. Hell, he was three times the high school running back of anyone I've ever seen. You can argue about the team around him, including an offensive line that featured a dominant Eric Winston, but when I tell you that Benson carried them, I mean he strapped the damn team on his back and led them to the finish line.
Every damn time. At the highest level of football in the state of Texas. It was awe-inspiring.
No. 3 - The most underrated great Texas player of all-time?
Look, it's a subjective discussion for sure, but a case can be made that no true iconic Texas player in history has been as under-appreciated as Benson, who finished his career seventh in all-time NCAA rushing yards, but never quite became the legend that fellow Texas running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams represented.
Yet, Benson finished his Texas career with more yards than anyone in school history outside of Williams. The presence of Vince Young has taken some of the spotlight off of Benson's senior season, but those 1,834 yards feel pretty incredible when you consider that he did most of it over 11 games. Oh, and there's that game against Texas A&M in 2003 when he rushed for 283 yards and four touchdowns, arguably the greatest individual running back performance in school history against a rival.
The fact that he played with a hyper-extended knee in his final game against Michigan in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2005 and not only refused to come out of the game against the advice of doctors, but he carried the ball that day 23 damn times in a 38-37 win.
VY and Dusty Mangum are the names that people remember from that day, but Benson's performance was one of the toughest acts of unselfish, give-it-all-up-for-the-team play that these eyes have ever seen.
Perhaps he was never Earl or Ricky, but he's easily in the third spot on the Mount Rushmore of Texas running backs.
No. 4 - That opening game against New Mexico State in 2001 ...
What a surreal moment.
In what was an otherwise unmemorable 41-7 season-opening win over New Mexico State, the memory that I'll hold on to for the rest of the time was the buzz and excitement surrounding Benson as he received his first bit of playing time in the fourth quarter. It was enough to make the hair on your arms stand up straight.
Normally, with 15 minutes to go in a runaway win over a team that Texas fans don't care about, it would be time to head to a place where beer could be purchased and consumed, but on this particular day, the stands were full of people that wanted to see Benson run the football more than they wanted to consume their next 12-ouncer.
Therefore, when Benson ran onto the field in the fourth quarter, it felt like all of DKR came to its feet with anticipation. This was the moment they'd been waiting all day for, to see this young freshman with all of the high school records. Each time he touched the ball, the crowd roared and when Benson scored with less than a minute left in the game, it felt like Texas football had been reinvigorated with its future.
No. 5 - Texas A&M's Daddy ...
Oh, I know that A&M has a lot of burnt orange daddies out there, but consider this ...
Cedric Benson went 4-0 against A&M in his career, while rushing for 614 yards and eight touchdowns in those four wins.
The final margin of those four victories over the Aggies? 143-55.
Those 283 yards in 2003? Yeah, he served that up on the day after Thanksgiving in College Station.
No. 6 - The NFL years ...
It just never really happened for Benson in the NFL.
Despite landing in what seemed like a perfect situation for him when he was drafted by the Bears with the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, the combination of injuries, circumstances and perhaps the reality that he was just a hair shy of the explosiveness that kept him from being the player most thought he would become.
On one hand, he was definitely a bust with the Bears, but on the other hand he rushed for 1,000 yards or more in three straight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
On one hand, he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, but on the other hand he scored 33 career touchdowns.
All I know is that if you play 96 career NFL games and deliver the goods enough times, as he most certainly did, you can walk away from the game with your head high.
No. 7 - Scattershooting on Cedric ...
Here are a few more thoughts on Cedric that I've had today ...
* Texas beats Colorado in the 2001 Big 12 Championship if Mack Brow and Greg Davis had just rode the Benson train and not put the ball into Chris Simms' hands. Until Benson and Mike Williams ran into each other trying to make a tackle on a Simms interception returned for a touchdown, essentially taking Benson out for the rest of the game, Benson had been unstoppable. If they had just kept giving him the ball, Benson might have gone for 300 yards that night and the Longhorns would have played for a national championship the following month had that happened. Man, how history might have been different ...
* As great as Benson was as a high school player, he ranked as the No. 6 running back prospect in the nation (if my memory is correct) behind fellow five-star running backs Kevin Jones (Virginia Tech), Jabari Davis (Tennessee), Kelly Baraka (Michigan), Carnell Williams (Auburn) and Eric Shelton (Florida State).
* Benson ranked No. 3 on my Lone Star Recruiting Top 100 list, in what might have been the best top 10 in the history of the state. Check out this group.
1. DT Tommie Harris (Oklahoma)
2. LB Derrick Johnson (Texas)
3. RB Cedric Benson (Texas)
4. OT Jonathan Scott (Texas)
5. OT Jami Hightower (Texas A&M)
6. C Ben Wilkerson (LSU)
7. Ath Quan Cosby (Texas)
8. RB Donta Hickson (Oklahoma)
9. DT Thomas Derricks (Northwestern)
10. CB Cedric Griffin (Texas)
Five of the top 10 players on the list earned all-America honors as players, including five of the top six, while Cosby and Griffin were also incredible college players.
No. 8 – BUY or SELL …
(HoustonHorn0419) Buy or sell: Top 5 all-time Texas high school running back?
(Buy) 1. Ken Hall. 2. Benson. 3. Johnathan Gray 4. David Overstreet 5. Robert Strait
(63697005) Buy or sell: Best college running back to never win the Heisman?
(Sell) LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2000 and finished fourth, losing to Chris Weinke (of all people) in the process.
(ModelTFord14) Buy or sell: Cedric should have been in NY for the Heisman in ‘04.
(Buy) I'm not going to say that he deserved to be there ahead of Alex Smith, who finished fourth that year, but he definitely deserved to be there ahead of Reggie Bush, who had less yards from scrimmage and fewer touchdowns.
(Cdun) My uncle told me that when Cedric got his pile of offer letters, he took two and put them aside, as they were the only ones he was truly interested in.
Buy or sell, that’s a true story?
(Sell) As far as I know, there really wasn't much of a recruitment for Benson. The Longhorns were a little slow to offer him following his junior season, but as soon as they offered, he committed to Texas without so much as visiting any other schools. It was a commitment that kind of came out of nowhere and I just don't recall Miami ever being a school that he considered.
(JuarezYourProblem) Buy or Sell: Cedric Benson deserves his number retired or a statue outside of DKR.
(Sell) The standard for retiring numbers at this point seems to require having won a national player of the year award as a starting point and Benson never quite reached that level. As great of a player as he was, I might lean somewhere else if we're going to make an exception to the rules that seem to be in place.
(rjenk) Let's hear about his recruitment
(Buy) Here's something most people don't know. There was a time when Mack Brown and the Texas coaching staff seemed to think he was overrated and they considered not offering him a scholarship because they preferred Anthony Johnson to him as a college running back prospect entering both players' senior seasons in high school. Yet, Benson's profile was just too large to ignore and the offer went out, even if some staff members had some reservations about it. By the time he was done with his senior season, all of those reservations were gone.
(CJHorn15) Buy or sell
TX beats OU in 2001 if Mack plays CB. (Benson did not receive one carry in the game.) Un-****ing-believable[/QUOTE]
(Buy) The margins in that game that decided the outcome were so small that adding the best running back on either team into the equation would have absolutely made a difference. Texas gave the ball to running backs 16 times in that game (Ivan Williams had 12, Victor Ike had 3 and Brett Robin had 1) for a mere 44 yards. Considering it was a 7-3 game in the final minutes, yeah, playing your second-best offensive player would have mattered.
No. 9 - The List: Top 10 Cedric Benson moments at Texas ...
Here's a look at my top 10 all-time Cedric Benson moments while he was at Texas.
10. Texas vs. Kansas (2001)
It was a pretty cut and dry 59-0 domination of the Jayhawks that year, but at the root of the dominance was a 213-yard rushing day and a 60-yard reception from Chris Simms for a touchdown in the first quarter. In all, Benson finished with 281 yards of offense and three touchdowns on the day.
9. Texas at North Carolina (2002)
On Mack Brown's return to Chapel Hill, Benson rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-21 win.
8. Texas vs. New Mexico State (2001)
Benson's opening performance in a Longhorn uniform. Gets bonus points for the goosebumps created.
7. Texas at Oklahoma State (2003)
The Longhorns went on the road and dropped a 55-16 beatdown on the Cowboys behind 180 yards and two touchdowns from Benson.
6. Texas vs. Michigan (2004)
Benson didn't have his best day (70 yards rushing), but when you consider the injury he picked up on his first carry of the game, his role in a classic Texas win can't be understated.
5. Texas vs. Oklahoma State (2004)
In one of the most memorable comebacks in school history, Benson rushed for 141 yards and five touchdowns, while catching five passes for 51 yards in a 56-35 win over the Cowboys.
4. Texas vs. Texas A&M (2004)
In his final home game as a Longhorn, Benson rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown in a 26-13 win over the No. 22 Aggies, with his touchdown in the fourth quarter cementing the win.
3. Texas vs. Nebraska (2003)
In a battle of near top-10 teams, Benson and Vince Young ran wild for a combined 337 rushing yards and four touchdowns, with Benson accounting for 174 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-7 win.
2. Texas at Arkansas (2004)
In one of the toughest road settings a Texas team has played in over the last 20 years, Benson rushed for 188 yards and caught the game-winning 13-yard touchdown from Young to help lead the Longhorns to a crucial 22-20 win.
1. Texas at Texas A&M (2003)
As I stated earlier in the column, no Texas running back has ever had a better day against an A&M or Oklahoma team.
No. 10 – And Finally ...
If there's anything that we were reminded of again today, it's that we should pour as much love into those that we love because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Find your kids, your spouse, your family members... whoever is important to you... and love them as much as you can.