Benton Leaves His Mark
With one game remaining in Iowa State’s season, Benton still has football left in him. The former shut-down, nickel cornerback was asked to switch roles at the beginning of this season and play one of the safety positions.
“With the body frame, speed and experience I have on the field, they put me at safety because it would be better for the team and also for me as an NFL prospect,” Benton said.
Constantly having to learn new positions, Benton was not initially encouraged by the prospect or another change. However, after giving it time and adjusting to the role, he has thrived, having his best year ever as a Cyclone.
In 2011, Benton has recorded a career-high 62 tackles. In addition, he leads the team with three interceptions, while recording his first career pick at Texas Tech in October. Benton has also solidified himself in pass defense as he has accounted for nine pass break-ups.
“As safety, you are like the quarterback of the defense,” Benton said. “You have to give the other DBs [defensive backs] the calls and make sure they are in the right spots. After playing it for a year, I feel like safety is the best position for me.”
The dynamic play of Benton has been vital in Iowa State’s drive to a bowl game. The Cyclone defense has come up with crucial plays many times this season. Iowa State is 6-6 with a spot in the Dec. 30 Pinstripe Bowl in New York, N.Y.
“The defense is building up as a family,” Benton said. “We are taking the coaching to the field. Everybody is learning their positions, learning the plays and doing their jobs.”
Under head coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones will be playing in their second bowl in three years. Benton was an essential part of the 2009 Insight Bowl win over Minnesota when he recovered a fumble as the Gophers were marching down the field in the final minutes of the game. Iowa State ran out the clock to seal a 14-13 victory. In 2010, the Cyclones were one win shy of being bowl eligible and Benton is looking forward to a final opportunity of playing in a bowl game.
“Last year we were one win short and lost the last one,” Benton said. “Looking in the seniors eyes, going home early, it just makes you feel like your missing out. To be going bowling my senior year, it means a lot.”
When Benton first arrived in 2008, he was a recruit of former Cyclone head coach Gene Chizik. He chose Iowa State over the likes of Nebraska, Arizona and Iowa.
“Other schools looked at me as an athlete,” said Benton. “They weren’t worried about my academics or the other people I’ve been around. At other schools it seemed like everyone was separate. I didn’t want to be at a school where I was going to feel alone the whole time. Even though I’m 12 hours away from my house I needed family away from family.”
As soon as Benton got to his new home in Ames, like many Cyclones, he was left with a decision when Chizik departed after two seasons to become the coach at Auburn. His mom advised him to stay and Benton remained at Iowa State.
“I realize that this is a business; people are going to come and go,” Benton said. “I had to give Coach [Paul] Rhoads a chance. It was a good thing I did because he’s the best coach I’ve ever played under. I feel like staying also makes me better as a man. Leaving when stuff is hard, it just shows weakness.”
With coaching changes came position changes for Benton. Since he has been here he has played for three different defensive backs coaches. From Shawn Raney in 2008 to Chris Ash in 2009, Benton now follows the instructions of Bobby Elliott, Iowa State’s current defensive backs coach. With the help of coach Elliott and coach Rhoads, Benton has developed into an NFL prospect.
“Coach Elliott and coach Rhoads know the most about the secondary,” Benton said. “They are teaching me the stuff I need to learn. They take baby steps with me. I’m learning the plays of the game rather than relying on my athleticism.”
Benton looks to take the knowledge he has gained at Iowa State to the NFL. With his size, speed, athleticism and a full resume of playing each secondary position, he knows he’ll get his chance. However, with the possibility of not making a team and a pending degree in criminal justice, Benton is an aspiring police officer.
“Everybody’s plans are to go to the NFL,” Benton said. “But you never know I’ll probably not be able to play tomorrow, I’ll probably not be able to move tomorrow, I’ll probably get hurt tomorrow, this weekend, whenever. The NFL is not there forever.”
With one final game left as a Cyclone, Benton has made his mark in Cyclone history.