Georgia Tech B-back KirVonte Benson and quarterback TaQuon Marshall were two of 85 players named to the Maxwell Award watch list. They were named to the list on the basis of both having rushed for 1,000 yards last season – Marshall’s 1,146 yards were the most ever by a Tech quarterback – along with 927 passing yards for Marshall.
Benson, in his first season as a starter, earned second-team All-ACC honors after finishing fourth in the ACC in rushing yards (one spot behind Marshall).
While making the watch list for the Maxwell Award - given to the nation’s top college player - probably won’t be the first line of Benson’s LinkedIn résumé (nor Marshall’s), it’s a notable achievement for at least one reason. Their recruiting rankings coming out of high school (Marietta High for Benson, Harris County High for Marshall) would not have suggested that either would have had much of a shot at this type of honor.
Of the 14 ACC players on the watch list, Benson had the second lowest rating (247Sports Composite). Only Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who didn’t even have a rating, was below Benson. Marshall’s was third lowest, and the gap between those three and the other 11 is pretty wide.
Benson was rated the No. 1,748 prospect in the 2015 class. Marshall was No. 939 in the same class. Of the other 11 players, three were in the top 100 of their respective classes and nine were in the top 500. Two more were between 600 and 650 of their classes.
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
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