Bill Hass on the ACC: At Whatever Size, Miami's Travis Benjamin is Hard to Catch
Oct. 23, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – If you’re talking to Travis Benjamin and he says “Excuse me, gotta run,” don’t take offense.
Running is Benjamin’s strong suit, and he has been doing it effectively for Miami’s football team this season. The true freshman has caught passes, run reverses and returned punts and kickoffs for a total of 739 yards. His average of 105.6 all-purpose yards per game ranks sixth in the ACC.
He’s performing those multiple chores at 5-feet-10 and a weight that depends on who you ask. Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon said Benjamin weighs “about 160 pounds soaking wet.” Benjamin insists he’s more like 170, having gained about 18 pounds through work in the weight room since he came on campus.
Either way, he’s usually the smallest player on the field, which doesn’t bother him in the least.
“I’ve got my mindset that everybody on the field is the same size,” Benjamin said, “and (defenders) have got to work harder to try to catch me.”
Aubrey Hill, Miami’s receivers coach, said Benjamin’s size is not a factor when he gets the football.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays a lot bigger than his height and weight,” Hill said. “That’s a testament to his heart and his eagerness to be a good player.
“You look at all the special teams plays, the reverses, the passes we throw to him. You can see that the opposing team is saying ‘we’ve got to make sure we can contain number 80.’ They really physically take it to him, and up to this point he has held up. He gets in the weight room like everyone else. He’s tough for his size.”
(An aside: Like most players, Benjamin has an array of nicknames, including “The Little Engine.” Here’s a throwback suggestion that might fit. Back in the late 1960s, the Green Bay Packers had a kick returner named Travis “Roadrunner” Williams. That just might work here – Travis “Roadrunner” Benjamin. It’s worth a try.)
Benjamin has scored four touchdowns in Miami’s seven games, three receiving and one rushing. He doesn’t have a kick return for a TD yet, although he broke one all the way against Duke that was called back because of a penalty. He ranks second in the ACC and 16th nationally in punt return average (14.2) and fifth in the league and 29th nationally in kickoff return average (25.9).
Altogether, Benjamin has touched the ball 41 times and is averaging 18 yards per touch. And that doesn’t include a pass he threw and completed for 17 yards.
“We knew he had a lot of playmaking ability and was very fast and very electrifying,” Shannon said. “What we were doing early in the season was just getting him accustomed to going out and playing college football and not wearing him out early. He’s come around dramatically for us and we’re excited. We knew he had the ability to make the plays like he’s doing and he could take over a game with his running ability.”
Because there are numerous talented young players on the Hurricanes’ roster – five different freshmen scored in the win over Duke – Shannon said his team doesn’t have a go-to player. Still, he admits the coaching staff sometimes thinks of different ways to get the ball to the versatile Benjamin.
“The one thing we have to make sure of is that we don’t wear these freshmen out, including Travis,” Shannon said. “We’ve got to make sure we use him in key situations where he can help us out, but also that we don’t wear him down to where he’s fatigued and we miss him one game because of what we did the week before.”
Benjamin admits he feels “a little worn down” after a game, but said he’s ready to go after a little rest.
On the question of exactly how fast he is, Benjamin said was timed in 4.26 in the 40 when he first got to Miami. He ran track in high school (and plans to in college) and his best time in the 100 meters was 10.6. That kind of speed gives him a sense of confidence.
“I feel like every time I get the ball and I see a crease or a seam that I should go all the way,” he said.
Growing up in Belle Glade, Fla., about 90 minutes from Miami, Benjamin was always a Hurricanes fan. A cousin, Alphonso Marshall, played in the secondary for Miami. He was recruited by Florida, LSU, Auburn and South Florida, but Miami always had the inside track.
Benjamin worked hard to learn his various assignments in his multiple roles. While his great speed helped, there were other things to learn about the game.
“In college football, everything is faster,” he said. “You’ve got to be smart about your decisions; you can’t make a mistake that will cost your team.”
Hill said Benjamin is a quiet person that you might not notice except for his long dreadlocks. But he added that Benjamin is the first one to arrive at practice and the last one to leave and is always studying ways to improve.
“There are so many intricacies of keeping your pad level down, being able to change direction, going full speed, being able to get off press coverage,” Hill said. “There’s a gambit of things that he still needs to learn.
“One thing (about him) is he’s willing to learn, and the next thing is you really don’t see him making the same mistake twice. It’s really neat to see a young man become a player right in front of your eyes.”
Benjamin will be tested this week when the Hurricanes host Wake Forest. All-ACC cornerback Alphonso Smith, a fifth-year senior for the Deacons, is likely to spend some time covering the freshman.
“Alphonso is a wonderful corner, a first-round pick corner,” Benjamin said. “But I know that everybody can’t have a good game every time. Everybody has things they can get beat on, and hopefully I’ll be able to do that. I know that the plays we’re going to run and the things we’re going to do, they should work.”
The Hurricanes are 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Coastal Division of the ACC. If they’re going to contend for a shot at the championship game, they probably need to sweep their remaining five league contests.
“They are big games for us, must-win, and if we win them all we’ll be in the ACC Championship game,” Benjamin said. “I know I can contribute in my role, not trying to be a superstar, just doing my assignment.
“Everybody has got to play as a team. Lately we’ve been playing as a team, everybody has been doing their assignments, and if we keep doing that we’re going to be on top.”
And if the Hurricanes get there, chances are Benjamin’s running will have a lot to do with it.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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