Benson wraps up Coast Guard career

January 06, 2001|By CHRIS GRANT, Sports Editor

Most people would find the task of being a kick returner a bit daunting.

Imagine standing at one end of a football field with what seems to be the entire opposing team rushing at you, all the while trying to catch a ball that is soaring through the air.

This is the Coast Guard Academy's Mike Benson's job and Benson does his job extremely well.

The senior from Brawley earned Division III All-America honors as both a kick and punt returner. He finished the season second in the nation in punt return average (19.6 yards) and was second in the Freedom Football Conference in kick return average (24.3 yards).

"It's nerve-racking," Benson, a 21-year old senior said of his craft. "When you catch the ball you know you could get hit and that's the hardest part. But I love (returning punts). It's my favorite part of the game. Kickoff returns are fun as well. You start the game and you could get the whole team excited. It sets the tone for the game and that's the best part about it."


Benson not only earned All-American status but earned a trip to Merida, Mexico to play in the 2000 Aztec Bowl. The game is an annual showdown between the American Football Coaches Association's Division III all-star team and the Mexican national team.

The Division III team took a 28-27 win this year and Benson returned kicks and played defensive back.

"It was a great honor," he said. "I was thrilled when I found out I made the team and All-America. To get to go and play with the best guys in Division III down in Mexico was great."

The honors come to Benson after a disappointing year for the Coast Guard team. While Benson certainly shined, the Bears finished the season just 2-8.

"We had a real weak senior class," he said. "We only had 10 seniors and six of them were starters. We were a real young team."

The season marked another change for Benson. After spending his first three years in college at defensive back, he made the move to running back.

He said, "They needed someone with a little more speed so they moved me over. I was the go-to guy on offense. It was different, but it was fun scoring touchdowns."

Benson also has spent three years playing for the Coast Guard baseball team, but is unsure if he will play this year due to an arm injury he suffered last baseball season.

He credits much of his athletic success to John Bishop's Brawley Union High School football program.

"I owe a lot to Coach Bishop," he said. "He really prepared me to play college football, getting me into the weight room and preparing me to play. As a freshman I'd say pound-for-pound I was one of the strongest guys in my class."

Benson will graduate in May with a degree in marine environmental science. Upon graduation he will be assigned to a boat, and he will serve as a Coast Guard officer for five years. He hopes to go to aviation school at some point during his hitch in the Coast Guard.

While he looks forward to his military career, Benson will always look back fondly on his time playing college football.

"I've started for three years and the coaches have been great," he said. "All the guys on the team were great guys and football has definitely been fun. It has been the best part about the Coast Guard Academy. (School's) been tough and I'll be happy when I graduate in May. But I'd do it again if given the opportunity."

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