#TGW: Hoop Dreams, Gridiron Glory

For all of the Georgia Tech game video that KirVonte Benson pores over in his quest to become the best B-back that he can be, he may be nearly as likely to study NBA tape and scan that sport’s trade/free agency wires as if he might as a front office employee.

Basketball is, after all, his game outside of his game. He is a hoops head.

So, in the midst of parallel down seasons in the two biggest sports in the United States, he’s re-shaping himself to be faster on the football field and looking to re-shape the NBA in the last of his down time before football cranks up for real.

Part of this comes down to the pending free agency of one of the most famous athletes ever. KirVonte, whither LeBron James? Might he become a Laker?

“In my opinion, from what I’ve been hearing, I think he might go down to Los Angeles,” Benson said. “My personal opinion is that he should go to Houston because they already have one of the best in James Harden and Chris Paul will be healthy. They would have the trio.”

That was kind of hard for Benson to say. When your favorite NBA team is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who may soon lose top-notch free agent Paul George and you don’t see your team in the hunt for the biggest fish in the pending free agent pond, you might be bummed.

Benson, though, has plenty to pump himself up.

The fourth-year junior — a literature, media and communication major — cross-trains as a sports fan. And he’s quite the multi-tasker as an athlete.

It’s working.

Georgia Tech’s latest out-of-nowhere 1,000-yard rusher was best known at Marietta High School as a human blur. He won the 100-meter state title as a sophomore and a slew of track successes followed.

And even at 5-feet, 10-inches, he attacked basketball. By the time he was a sophomore, he made the varsity.

Then he added football to his plate.

Benson played only as a junior and a senior, rushing for 3,587 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns with another 682 receiving yards and four more scores, even though he wrenched a knee during his senior season.

He committed to Georgia Tech ahead of Duke and Kentucky, among others — and then got back to basketball.

He averaged 12.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game — without attempting a single 3-point shot — as a senior at Marietta.

“I like Oklahoma City; I’m more of a Russell Westbrook fan,” Benson said. “[When] I was playing basketball in high school, I saw my game in Westbrook. It always feels like he’s the best player on the court.”

Benson aggravated the knee in the eighth basketball game of his senior season, early in 2015.

“I tweaked it a little more halfway through the season,” he recalled. “It was an ACL.”

After surgery, Benson decided to delay his enrollment at Tech until January 2016, with the idea of avoiding a redshirt. He got a job. He changed his mind, enrolled in the fall of `15 and redshirted.

He, like classmate TaQuon Marshall, was recruited as an A-back, a perimeter player.

“I came in at 180 pounds and put on 10 pounds,” he said. “I was at Muscle Beach every day with Coach [John] Sisk [and] went from 190 to 210. Coach [Paul] Johnson caught wind of that and he said, `You’re going to B-back. ` ”

It’s working out.

He played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in `16, but became the third-straight relative newcomer to standout at B-back last season, following Marcus Marshall in `15, and Dedrick Mills in ’16. Benson’s shot came after Marshall transferred following the `16 season and Mills was dismissed from the program days before the `17 campaign.

All he did was rush for 1,053 yards in 11 games, averaging 5.2 yards per carry to join TaQuon Marshall, now a quarterback, to form the second Tech tandem to rush for 1,000 yards each. Before them, only quarterback Josh Nesbitt and former B-back Jonathan Dwyer did that, in 2009.

Now, Benson is convinced that he — and the Jackets — can be considerably better.

Part of that is because Tech has so many offensive players returning, including Marshall and a slew of linemen, and because he’s spent so much time scouting himself.

“Coming in, I never got in tune with the B-back position; I was thrown into the position because of circumstances,” he explained. “I definitely can say now that I know the X’s and O’s and why things are done the way they are.

“Sitting down with Coach Johnson, which I do quite often, and Craig Candeto, the B-backs coach, helps me improve my game. I pick their brains. Whatever they can tell me about why they call this, or why the footwork is this way, or why the guard is pulling . . . I take that and try to make it better.”

Benson is trying to improve his body, too, reshaping himself once again to get faster. He has cut weight.

“I played at about 215 [last season],” he said. “I’m at 208, [and] don’t want to be more than 210. I’m trying to play more of a speed game. I had the power, but I didn’t have the breakaway speed . . .

“I’ve kind of pushed my body to its limits, running with Coach Sisk, and I’ve worked on the sideline with my parents on speed and agility.”

His parents know how to train for speed — Diana Pitts-Benson ran collegiate track at Coppin State.

Perhaps few people knew much about KirVonte before last fall and perhaps few people beyond Georgia Tech know much about him now. He’s fine with that, not worried whether college football fans outside of Atlanta respect what he’s done. He cares about what he and the Jackets will do in the future. He’s fine doing it in shadows.

That’s Benson. He loves basketball and playing football. He doesn’t care about making headlines.

“I think the 5-6 record [last season] kind of overshadows the performance. I think most of our fans think we have the talent,” Benson said. “Getting my name known is not something that is my goal. My goal is to win the ACC championship.”

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