By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
KirVonte Benson did not dress as a superhero like several teammates did when Georgia Tech football players reported to summer camp on Thursday, yet he wants to be one when the Yellow Jackets start playing games.
The redshirt junior B-back last season qualified as a bona-fide surprise when he earned second team all-ACC honors after rushing for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games.
He’s not shy about saying he has more in mind for this season.
“My personal goal is to lead the ACC in rushing and in touchdowns. That’s kind of how I look at it,” Benson said. I’ve been honored to be put on the Doak Walker Award [watch list], and the Maxwell Award list. It’s definitely an honor. I’m trying to be one of the top [running backs] in the ACC and hopefully top five in the country.”
This is more than just talk. Benson spent the offseason renovating his body, cutting weight with the goal of adding speed, which is interesting because it’s not like he’s slow. He won the state 100-meter title (10.6 seconds) as a sophomore for Marietta High School.
Yet he’s mindful of the fact that just five of his 204 carries last season went for 20 or more yards. So, playing last season at around 215 pounds, the 5-foot-9 running back said his weight now fluctuates between 205-208 pounds.
“I see some room for improvement in the cardio area. I’m trying to get faster, quicker and things like that . . . “ Benson explained. “Right now, I’m . . . trying to get more of a speed game even though the B-back requires a lot of power. I’m trying to do both and bring something new to the game . . . that people aren’t aware of or haven’t seen.”
Benson’s sped up before.
In 2016, he was fourth on the depth chart at B-back behind Dedrick Mills, Marcus Marshall and Quaide Weimerskirch. After that season, Marshall transferred, and then Mills was dismissed from Tech shortly before last season, and Benson won the starting job in preseason practice.
Together, he and quarterback TaQuon Marshall (who is also on the Maxwell Award watch list after rushing for 1,176 yards and 17 touchdowns last season) combined for 2,199 of Tech’s 3,381 rushing yards, or 65 percent, and 23 of the team’s 30 rushing scores.
They’re not the only familiar faces in the backfield. The Jackets return their top six rushers from last season in Mitchell, Benson, Nathan Cottrell, Qua Searcy, Clinton Lynch and sophomore B-back Jerry Howard.
When Tech opens the season on Sept. 1 in Bobby Dodd Stadium against Alcorn State, Benson figures to be busy, although Howard (23 carries for 175 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder against Jacksonville State), redshirt freshman Jordan Mason and freshman Christian Malloy also will be candidates to work at B-back.
“I don’t know that the competition is really close, but they’re both going to play,” head coach Paul Johnson said of Benson and Howard. “I think KirVonte can be a special back if he stays healthy, and certainly Jerry brings some things to the table. When he got in the games, he played very well.
“So, you’ve got those guys, you’ve got [Jordan] Mason . . . who I think has got a chance to be a good player. We’ve talked about Christian. There are several guys, so we’ll sort it out.”
As Benson seeks to improve upon his respectable 5.2-yard rushing average from last season, he seems to have a superhero in mind. He said if he’d received the memo earlier, he’d have dressed as Superman last week.
That guy’s really fast, and difficult to hit.
“I didn’t like the way I was playing last year. Right now, I’m changing my whole standard, my whole diet, trying to get faster and still keep the strength,” Benson said. “I’ve been practicing agility, trying to get open [field]. If I can avoid getting hit . . . I definitely can be an impact.”