Time Winding Down for Benton

Time Winding Down for Benton

 DALLAS, TEXAS–Five years, 51 games, thousands of practices and tens of thousands of hours of work, it all is winding down for West Virginia fifth-year senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton.

Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy

He came to WVU from Newark, N.J., in 2013, and after a redshirt year, Benton immediately earned playing time in 2014 as a redshirt freshman. Most of that game action initially came on special teams, but after Jared Barber graduated following the 2015 campaign, Benton took over as West Virginia’s starting middle linebacker. And he’s hardly taken a play off since. He’s the only Mountaineer to participate in every game over the past four seasons.

But college careers are finite, and for Benton, his final game at WVU comes Tuesday at the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Utah.

“My time here is coming to an end,” noted Benton during Saturday’s bowl press conference at the Cotton Bowl. “It’s been a great five years. I’m thankful for this opportunity. I’m thankful for this university. Maybe we’ll see a little emotion at the end of it all.”

“I’ve given my all to this university. I’ve given my all to this team. The one thing I want now is to leave out on top with a win.”

Benton leads West Virginia’s defense both figuratively and literally.

He’s been the heart of the entire squad as a co-captain and typically the face of the team when it comes to media activities.

And with a team-best 102 tackles to go along with 13 tackles for lost yardage, three sacks and two interceptions, he’s been among WVU’s best defenders this season.

“I’m trying not to think about the end,” added Benton. “Anytime Eli (Wellman, Mountaineer senior fullback and co-captain) comes up to me after practice and says some about this being the last this or that, I try to ignore him. I laughed it off and walked away, but I know I’ll probably be a little emotional after the game.”

Benton is one of 20 seniors on this year’s WVU squad, but only five of them signed as scholarship players (offensive lineman Grant Lingafelter, linebacker Hodari Christian, safety Marvin Gross, Benton and Wellman) with the class of 2013 and will be finishing their careers five years later in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Having earned his undergrad degree at West Virginia this past semester, Benton now wants to wrap up his college career with one final victory.

“I remember the Cactus Bowl,” he recalled of WVU’s dramatic 43-42 victory over Arizona State in Phoenix to conclude the 2015 season. “I watched the faces of those seniors and how much it meant to them to go out with a victory. There was just joy after all the hard work. Of course I want that for myself in my last game, and for my teammates as well.”

Benton will have some more opportunities to play more football after Tuesday. He’s been invited to participate in the NFLPA College Bowl, which is an all-star game for college seniors that will be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Jan. 1. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound linebacker also is regarded as mid- to late-round NFL draft choice by most scouting service, so he’ll likely get a shot at the next level.

But one thing that’s for certain is that Al-Rasheed’s college career comes to an end on Tuesday. He’s done a good job of keeping his emotions in check to this point, but those figure to come pouring out after the Heart of Dallas Bowl concludes. He just hopes they are tears of joy.