By Alex Maminakis
After redshirting his first year as a South Carolina State football player, Jacory Benson found himself right where he wanted to be — on the field, ball in his hands, making plays in a scrimmage just two weeks before the Bulldogs’ 2018 opener.
But his hopes of seeing the field in his second college season were ripped away just a few moments later.
“I got hit by a linebacker on my left side, and I just planted wrong … I tried to stick my ground instead of falling down, and so my knee just kind of buckled on me,” Benson recalled, nearly a year later. “I didn’t really know I tore my ACL when it first happened.”
Benson, a Seneca native and a former standout, all-state running back at Seneca High School, admits that his first two years at S.C. State have been, at times, “a bumpy road,” but he’s determined to learn and grow from his past to have a strong and successful future, on and off the football field.
Early into his freshman year in Orangeburg, Benson suffered the sudden deaths of both his brother and grandfather, and he said the balance of dealing with that emotional pain in his personal life — as well as beginning his first year of college and college football — was a lot to handle and got frustrating at times.
But in that struggle, Benson found comfort in his new teammates at S.C. State, helping him grow from that negative time in his life.
“It honestly made me get closer to my team, because in that point in my life, I just really felt alone, because I came here with a purpose, and I think it got kind of difficult, when life actually hit me, to try to stick to that plan and that purpose,” he said. “That gave me some time to really bond with my team, just to become more of brothers. I think that’s what ultimately led to me becoming a better teammate to them, and them becoming better teammates to me, from that standpoint.”
Benson believes he’s matured a lot over his first two years in college, and he’s learned a lot about how to be patient.
Coming from Seneca, where he was a star running back and athlete, to then redshirting his first year at S.C. State, and all of the personal tragedy he experienced in that first year, he was finally ready to get his shot as a sophomore and prove himself for the Bulldogs on the football field.
Everything was going well for him last summer until that August scrimmage when he tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his second season before it began.
“When I actually got my turn, getting hurt, that was a tough period in my life,” he said. “But overall it taught me a lot, it really did. It taught me so many life lessons, just how to persevere through more physical pain instead of emotional pain, because it was a bumpy road. And I got to see how much my team and my coaches actually care for me, because in that moment, me going down, they prayed for me. My coaches, they walked every step with me to make sure I was going to be OK through this process. Even though it was something so bad, God made it into something really good for me.”
When Hal Capps arrived at Seneca in 2016 for his first year as the Bobcats’ new head coach, the first thing he said he noticed about Benson was his smile.
Capps only coached Benson for one season — his senior year — but the two quickly connected and still share a relationship today.
Capps left Seneca after the 2018 season and now works as a director of high school relations with the Elon University football program, but he still keeps up with Benson and how he’s doing at S.C. State, always rooting for him through the adversity.
“He’s a special young man,” Capps said. “All the devastations, and the trials and tribulations he’s been through with injuries and deaths in the family, he just keeps his eyes forward — he keeps pushing.”
Capps knows the last two years have been hard for Benson, in more ways than one, but he’s sure that his former star running back is more than ready to get back on the football field to do what he loves.
“I think he misses the game, for not necessarily the first time, but he’s missed it more than he ever has. He had something taken away from him,” Capps said. “He was always happy (at Seneca). He loved football, and anything we would do in football, he was one of the first ones out there smiling. That was his domain, that was his getaway, that was his place to shine and to be Jacory.”
Now, with his knee back to 100-percent health, Benson is champing at the bit to finally get on the field and suit up for S.C. State in what will be his redshirt sophomore season this year.
Benson trained at home in Seneca during the Bulldogs’ optional on-campus first summer training session this year, taking advantage of some more time to spend home with his family, and now he’s back in Orangeburg for summer two as the team begins workouts and team bonding before the more intense fall camp begins on Aug. 1.
Now in his third year in the program, Benson is well versed in what it takes to succeed in college football, even though he has yet to take the field.
He said he learned a lot his freshman year from watching and working alongside linebacker Darius Leonard, who in his rookie NFL season last year with Indianapolis led the NFL in tackles and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of Year after a strong career at S.C. State.
“It just shows you that if you work hard enough, your dreams can come true,” Benson said. “Just watching (Leonard) excel in what he does, and seeing him take his opportunities and make the best of it, then becoming the leading tackler in the NFL, that just showed me that if I put the work in, there’s no telling what I can do and who I can become.”
All of the waiting and anticipation to get back on the field and to strap on the pads is almost over for Benson. After his redshirt season, he was anxious to earn his spot on the Bulldogs’ depth chart, but then after his ACL injury delayed that opportunity again, his hunger to get back on the field grew even more.
“Honestly, this year, I really just want to give it my best shot. I haven’t really gotten to see myself at 100 percent at the college level yet, and I think this year I’ll be able to show everybody that,” he said. “My biggest thing is to really just shock everyone. A lot of people are looking forward to me doing something big for the team, and something big for the city, as well. I know that when I go out there and play, I’m going to be playing not for myself, but representing my hometown and my family and the people who have passed away in my family. This year, honestly, it’s personal for me, so I’m just going to make sure I give it my best shot in everything I do.”
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