Kani Benoit: The Small Division Underdog
Kani Benoit*, a redshirt freshman from Phoenix, Arizona, thought it was over. His dream of playing football for a top-tier program seemed unattainable. Though he received initial offers from 10 schools, he had trouble keeping them. And Oregon was really the only one in the running for the BCS National Championship.
Benoit’s head coach from Phoenix Thunderbird High School, Brent Wittenwyler, revealed to The Oregonian that this three-star recruit “was looked over by many programs and communication issues led to schools offering scholarships only to pull them back.”
But the Ducks showed interest early on. In a press conference discussing the 2013 class, Mark Helfrich revealed that Benoit was a guy he kept his eye on throughout the recruiting process. Helfrich called the running back a “solid kid, really humble, but competitive, hungry.” He went on to say Benoit was a very productive, elusive and ’heavy’ runner that cut through a lot of arm tackles.
However, Oregon remained elusive with Benoit. We all know the Ducks are famous for offering to a certain amount of potential players instead of vomiting mass amounts of offers to every top-tier athlete. They’re smart with recruitment, thinking long and hard about every person they award scholarships and offers to because — at the end of the day — that player is a representative of the school. Sometimes the humble guy with massive potential is better than the five-star athlete with a narcissistic personality disorder. (It’s always better if we’re being honest, here.)
The Ducks came back for Benoit, though. They needed another guy besides Thomas Tyner, and they chose Benoit.
While he didn’t get his time to shine redshirting last year, Benoit stood out during the spring game. He held the best average of all running backs with 8.8 yards per carry and 44 total yards rushing. This year he looks to add to his stats alongside Tyner.
But before Benoit became Oregon’s underdog of sorts, he was an impressive three-year letterman at Thunderbird. In his three-year career with the Chiefs, he totaled 4,540 rushing yards, averaged 119.5 yards a game, and scored 70 touchdowns — 66 of which were rushing, including 36 his senior year.
During Benoit’s sophomore year, and first year on varsity, he helped lead his team to the 4A2 state title. Benoit’s junior year stats included 1,401 yards, 19 touchdowns and an All-Arizona Division III honorable mention.
In his senior year he was explosive: 2,260 yards (average of 7.9 per carry), 36 touchdowns and an almost 200-yards-per-game average. He had six 200-yard rushing efforts in 12 games in 2012. To top that off, Benoit earned Division III Section III East and All-Glendale Union High School District co-offensive player of the year in recognition of his outstanding efforts as a running back and kick returner on his way to being named to the 2012 All-Arizona Football Team.
His attitude on and off the field earned Benoit respect and admiration from his teammates. He was voted team captain and offensive player of the year. Under Wittenwyler, he led the Chiefs to consecutive 8-4 seasons.
After a year of standing in the background, Benoit took spring practice as a time to shine. When Teams Mariasu and Twifo drafted their spring game rosters, Benoit was the most involved name in trade talk. Helfrich revealed to The Daily Emerald he didn’t know whether Benoit would be a wild card or player of the game, but he’d go with him either way.
All signs point to more game time with Benoit this fall. This underdog chose Oregon, not because of their flashy uniforms or televised time on ESPN — he needed to prove himself that kids from smaller schools can play in the big leagues. In 44 days, he will get his moment to show the world that lower division players can play just as hard and fast as anyone else.
* [Ed. note: pronounced “Kah-nee Ben-wah”]
Top photo by Kevin Cline