All-Empire Small School Football: Middletown’s Benson a dominant offensive force

Middletown's Austin Benson, the All-Empire Small School Offensive Player of the Year.  (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat)

Middletown’s Austin Benson, the All-Empire Small School Offensive Player of the Year. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat)

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

There were running backs who rushed for more yards, but none more explosive than mercurial Middletown High senior Austin Benson.

“People forget that we had big leads in the third quarter of most of our games, so Austin didn’t get as many carries as the other top backs,” Middletown head coach Bill Foltmer said of the All-Empire Small School Offensive Player of the Year. “I’d play our first unit for a series after halftime lots of games and that would be it. So, you can’t tell the impact Austin had based on how many yards he gained.”

It’s not as though the 6-foot-1, 180-pound speedster didn’t do a ton of damage to opposing defenses for the North Central League I champions. He carried 146 times for 1,632 yards and 23 touchdowns. Benson was, arguably, the most exciting kickoff returner in the Empire. It’s just important to note that he averaged 136 yards per game playing barely into the third quarter.

“That’s just the way it was,” Benson said after falling 40, 50 carries shy of the top rushers in the Empire. “I had to understand that if we had a big lead, there were other kids who deserved to play. And there was no reason to run the score up just so I could gain more yards. But, yeah, I know other guys got more attention and gained more yards because they played the whole game.”

Don’t believe Benson lost out on scads of statewide attention because his NCL I championship team blew opponents away? Consider that he averaged 11.1 yards per carry. Then give him the 200 or so carries the leading rushers in the North Coast Section had. Benson would have gained more than 2,000 yards — and led the state in rushing.

“It’s not just that I’ve got pretty good speed,” Benson said. “It has to do with agility and strength. I think people underestimated my strength when I carried the ball.”

Benson remembered being a Middletown kid watching the Mustangs on

Friday nights.

“I’ve always been one of the fastest kids, ever since I was 8 or 9 years old. I’ve always been a running back and defensive back,” he said. “I’d go to games and stand on the sidelines and think, ‘Boy, someday I want to be playing here.’ Then time flies and I played and now I’m thinking ahead to playing in college.”

He won’t think back on his stirring high school season without remembering that he only got as far as his teammates — such as fullback Brad Beckwith — helped him get.

“Brad’s like a brother to me. I love the guy,” Benson said. “We grew up together. I know that I wouldn’t have gained the yards I did without him blocking and me having my hand on his back all the time. In fact, our whole offensive line was just outstanding, too. It was a team effort all season long.”

For the record, Benson didn’t and won’t spend time worrying about the risk of head injury that has shaken the sport.

“I know that anything can happen on any play,” he said. “I know what a concussion is and how it can damage you. But I don’t think about it. I trust the new equipment we play with now. The officials are serious about taking dangerous hits out of the game. None of us can let it bother us.”

Benson will sting for a while over the season-ending loss to Salesian, in Middletown, in the second round of the North Coast Section Division 5 playoffs.

“We never took any team easy,” Benson said. “We just had a bad game at a really bad time. Still, it was a pretty good senior year.”

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