Benson was probably a bit undervalued, even before his production last season. He chose Tech over Wake Forest and Duke, and most prospects in his ranking neighborhood didn’t have choices like that. Of the 10 players immediately above and below him, only one other signed with a power-conference school. Of the 100 above him, 29 signed with power-conference schools (including another Tech B-back, Quaide Weimerskirch, who left for West Florida this summer as a grad transfer).
Beyond their rankings, both deserve credit for seizing opportunity when it was presented. At the end of the 2016 season, it seemed unlikely that either would have leading roles in the Tech offense in 2017.
Benson was behind Dedrick Mills, Marcus Marshall and Weimerskirch on the B-back depth chart. As a redshirt freshman in 2016, he didn’t take a single snap at the position. But Marshall transferred, Mills was dismissed and then Benson beat out Weimerskirch and Jerry Howard in the 2017 preseason. He also did a bit of growing up, maturing past a phase when he had some difficulty adjusting to college. Once he got the job, he ran with power and speed, breaking tackles in the box and jetting through secondaries.
Likewise, Marshall also was ready when he got his chance. He figured to be the No. 2 behind Matthew Jordan until Jordan tore a foot ligament in 2017 spring practice. Marshall rose to the occasion and likewise won the job in the preseason. He cemented it with his phenomenal debut against Tennessee.
There’s also a nod to coach Paul Johnson’s offensive system that can produce points and yards with players that many of their coaching peers don’t want, and also to coaches for finding the players that fit (Buzz Preston recruited Marshall, Andy McCollum went back to his high-school alma mater to recruit Benson).
Should they start rehearsing Maxwell Award acceptance speeches? There are probably better uses of time. But they’re a lot closer than most would have ever thought.
Maxwell Award watch-list ACC honorees
* stars and national rating from 247 Sports composite