Center Stage

Oct. 3, 2001

by Bri Niemi

Center stage. The center of the universe. Front and center.

All of these phrases refer to one thing and one thing only: being the sole focus of attention and emphasis. So, what about the center on the line of scrimmage, you ask? Okay, so maybe he doesn't have every eye in the stadium glued to him at all times. And maybe the nasty block he just laid on his opponent isn't going to make the highlight reel at the end of the night. But for senior Kyle Benn, the position is just fine.

'I think that in playing the center position you have to have intelligence, the ability to recognize defenses and just be able to think a little bit more when you are out there,' says the 6-foot-3 lineman out of Edmonds, Wash. 'You have to direct protection and that takes a quick thinker. Things change on the field, stuff that you didn't prepare for during the week, and you have to be able to adjust and get all the other o-linemen on the same page.'

Directing the four other linemen is a task that Benn has placed great importance upon this season. Coming into the year, he found himself as the only returning starter, following the graduation of six seniors.

'It's kind of weird: the last two years I have been the youngest guy on the o-line,' says Benn. 'With those guys there really was no leader, we were all great friends and we knew what we were doing. This year is a lot of the same thing. These guys know what they are doing, they just don't have the experience yet. But, if you want to win you have to get that experience fast. My role is just basically talking to them and letting them know what has to be done, and I like that responsibility.'

Becoming a vocal leader was not a problem for Benn. In fact, he was so vocal that at times he would receive a hefty dosage of ribbing from his former teammates.

'I'm always yelling in the huddle. Last year all the guys told me that I just liked to hear the sound of my own voice,' says Benn with a laugh. 'If it was quiet, I just felt uncomfortable and I had to talk. After the games, all the guys would make fun of me and imitate what I would say in the huddle. I told them, 'okay, I'll stop, I'll never say a word,' and they'd all say 'no, we like it, keep doing it, but we are going to make fun of you for it.''

Despite the friendly teasing, Benn proved he had what it took to guide the team to victory. Along with mentoring the younger players in his position group this year, Benn was named team captain for the 2001 season. He, along with fellow seniors Larry Tripplett and Willie Hurst, share in a privilege that was voted upon by the rest of the team.

'It was a huge honor for me,' Benn says. 'That's one of those things where your peers are voting for you, not the coaches, but your friends and your teammates saying that they want you to be out front. It is a huge responsibility, you are accountable to the whole team. When something is wrong, you have got to go to the coaches. When something is wrong, you have got to make sure the team handles it. It is a little bit nervewracking, but I'd rather be in no other situation.'

Benn started playing football when he was in third grade and his dad saw a sign on the side of the road urging parents to register their kids for the sport. The rest became history, when Benn graduated from O'Dea High School in 1997 and made his way over to Montlake. While he had aspirations to don purple and gold, reality struck hard for the freshman.

'When I came in we had guys like (current NFL starters) Olin Kreutz and Benji Olson. I saw those guys and I didn't think I was ever going to play here,' remembers Benn. 'I thought if I got really good, that maybe I would start my senior year.

'Red-shirting was the best thing for me because I wasn't ready to play when I got here. Looking back now, all my friends who didn't redshirt, wish they had one more year.'

Now that four years have gone by, things have changed quite a bit. When Benn earned a chance to play, it was evident that he was going to be a big-time contributor. He saw playing time in every game as a backup in 1998 and started all 12 games during his sophomore campaign. His junior year was no different, as he helped the team lead the conference in rushing for the second-straight year.

'I have grown a lot since I first came here. My outlook on everything has gotten a lot better. I have my goals in check and my priorities straight.'

Benn credits the strides that he has made over the past few years both on and off the field to his parents, Richard and Catherine.

'My parents have been the most influential people in my life. They did a great job,' says Benn. 'Everything that I am and I do is because of them and the way they have raised me.'

'Growing up, Kyle was always very nice and very thoughtful,' says Catherine Benn. 'He kind of had to learn how to become mean when he started playing football. But he always enjoyed it because it was somewhat of a release for him. His father and I are both very proud of him for graduating in four years and we hope that he enjoys his last year of Husky football.'

The time will come all too soon when Benn will have to walk out of the tunnel for the last time and play his last game in a Husky uniform. When asked what he will miss the most, the answer is plain and simple.

'Game days. The whole atmosphere, the fans, the students, the stadium. It is just like a big men's club. Hanging around the locker room and the weight room is just fun. It's like being with your friends all the time and I am definitely going to miss that.'

Not as much as the Huskies will miss him.

For Kyle and the rest of the team, they have three games under their belts and eight more games to show what they are made of. As always, the goals of returning to the Rose Bowl take precedence over anything else.

'I have been watching that game since I was a little kid and dreaming about it, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be out there winning the thing,' says Benn. 'We want to get back to the Rose Bowl, which is the national championship game this year. We want to win the Pac-10, our sights are aimed for the top. If we aren't aiming for the very top, there is no point in being here.'

No doubt, their goals will be achieved. And Kyle Benn will be at the center of it all

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