Benton Provides The Mountaineers Leadership
It is safe to say that talent and coaching wins football championships.
But it doesn’t always win football games.
As contradictory as that sounds, consider that there is a major difference, and it shows up every time there’s an inexplicable upset that occurs, an upset being where a more talented, better-coached and more successful team loses to a lesser opponent.
Or the lack of it.
Leadership is among the most important and most misunderstood aspects of any team sporting event, for it dictates how a team prepares for a game and how it reacts when under pressure.
Upsets, for example, come about as much because of leadership failure on the favorite than from a great performance from the underdog. The pressure mounts as the underdog stays close or leads the favorite and they can’t find the right button to push to turn the tide.
West Virginia is going into a new season and, despite a No. 22 national ranking in the AP poll, does so, as it so often does, as an underdog. Its first game is against Virginia Tech, which is No. 21 and was listed as a slight favorite.
West Virginia was listed as an underdog in its own conference preseason poll, selected sixth.
What can save it?
While no one can be sure of the leadership on the offensive side of the ball — much praise being heaped upon new quarterback Will Grier’s abilities in this area aside. That will come out once the games begin.
But the Mountaineers do possess an imposing leader on the defensive side of the ball, a verbose senior with the brashness that comes with being from New Jersey and with the experience to have earned respect.
Middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton has grabbed that unit by the scruff of the neck and thrust it in the right direction.
“He’s a great leader. If we’re ever having a bad practice or if people are sluggish out there he will rally us up and let us know like, ‘C’mon, let’s get together.’ The other day he held a meeting with the team to make sure everybody was on board,” safety Kyzir White says.
White himself is mentioned as part of the senior leadership, but he takes a different tact in leading.
“I like leading by example. I’m a leader by example. I don’t like talking too much, but I’ll talk when I have to,” he said.
Benton talks all the time, probably even in his sleep.
That could be troublesome, except what he says makes sense and carries the ring of authority with it.
If there is something that needs to be addressed, he addresses it.
He understands that anyone can lead when things are going well, but when a team faces adversity is when the true leaders come forth.
“That’s why we sat down the other day,” Benton said. “I told the guys and told them that if we really want to do this, it’s going to be one of the hardest things you ever had to do. Everybody has been through something. It is going to take everything out of us. I hope we’re all ready.”
Benton emerged as a leader a year ago as he started at the middle linebacker spot, but that was last year’s team and this defense has about eight new starters.
“It’s a different group of guys, but we have a different group of guys who can play ball,” Benton says of the group. “We have guys who make plays. Now we have to get on the same page. That’s something I’ve been preaching all season. It’s been coming along, getting better and better every day.
“We have to take it to another level. That’s what it takes to be a great team.”
And Benton passionately wants to play on a great team, having started his college career on a 4-8 team and having tasted the fruits of a 10-3 season a year.
“You got to have passion.” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel like this team gravitates toward me. I love the game and what it has done for me and what it means to me. You have to be real and you have to understand and believe in everything you say.”
And he is a leader who was created, not born. He spent his time as a follower and he believes that’s necessary if you plan to lead.
“I think you have to understand what it means for someone to want to follow you in order to be a leader,” he said. “That’s something I learned over the year.”
And, with all due apologies to Kyzir White, Benton believes the vocal approach is the best.
“I think it matters. You can’t be out there vocally without making the plays. You have to be able to do both. I just lead that way. Kyzir, everybody follows him because he does everything right.”