Versatile Benson leads Lions toward playoffs

by Mark Oliver

After missing the Class 3A playoffs a year ago, Jessieville has roared back into the playoff picture in 2016 under a new head coach. As the team enters the home stretch of the conference season, the team is optimistic about its opportunities ahead.

“It’s a different atmosphere here than it has been in years past,” said senior Steven Benson. “Everyone is really excited and buying into the program that Coach Burk is building. Because of that, practices are more fun and games are more fun. The overall experience is much more enjoyable.”

Benson was selected for this year’s 501 Football Team — 26 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by First Service Bank and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Benson was nominated by Jessieville Head Coach T.J. Burk.

“Steven is a very talented athlete who is a true leader on and off the field,” Burk wrote in his nomination. “On the field, he has great leaping ability, catches the ball really well and promotes good sportsmanship at all times. Off the field, he maintains a 4.0 GPA in the classroom and is very active in the school and community.”

On the field, Benson can do it all. Offensively, the senior has contributed at quarterback, running back and as a receiver. He leads the Lions in rushing, amassing 129 yards on 43 carries for five touchdowns and has reeled in eight passes for 55 yards and a score. Benson also leads the defense with 44 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. On special teams, Benson has returned three kickoffs and has kicked a 32-yard field goal.

“My main goal this season is to be the best leader I can be,” Benson said. “Numbers and statistics are easily forgotten and records are broken all the time. I think that the type of person that you are in the locker room and on the field inspires your teammates. I strive to help my team achieve their best.”

As the Lions (5-2, 3-1 5-3A) fight for a playoff spot in the tough 5-3A conference, each remaining week becomes a must-win game.

“Coach Burk stresses for us to be more physical than our opponents,” Benson said. “Every week in this conference is a battle. You have to have extremely good practice habits to carry out the war on the field. If we want to continue our win streak and win tough games, we have to have good practice habits that we can carry onto the field.”

A grandson of legendary Ouachita Baptist University Coach Buddy Benson, the senior comes from a long lineage of football talent.

“I have big shoes to fill,” Benson said. “My grandfather played at the University of Arkansas and coached at Ouachita Baptist University. My father played college football for Ouachita, too. I realize that every time I go on the field, I’m representing more than just myself — I’m representing my family and those before me.”

In addition to football, Benson plays basketball at Jessieville and has earned USA High School Rugby All-American honors with the Little Rock Rugby Club.

“Rugby is not an extremely popular sport like football, so there’s a big learning curve,” Benson said. “In order to be good, you have to be willing to learn. Because there is no other competition in Arkansas, we travel throughout the year to play in a series of tournaments across the country. It’s a lot of hard work.”

In the classroom, Benson maintains an impressive 4.0 GPA. In addition to being senior class vice president, the senior is also a member of FBLA, Beta Club and Key Club. After high school, Benson plans to continue playing rugby on the collegiate level while pursuing a business degree.

“Success starts in the classroom,” Benson said. “Athletics can only take you so far, and you can only do so much with it. Sooner or later, you have to retire your jersey and be done with it. I take my grades seriously and try to do the best I can in the classroom.”

Jessieville plays at Horatio on Friday, Oct. 21.