Linebacker gets new start

Father's death brings Benkelman to Mesa



Mesa State (3-3, 3-1 RMAC) at CSU-Pueblo (3-3, 2-2 RMAC), 6 p.m. Saturday, ThunderBowl

Radio: 1230-AM (KEXO), pregame at 5:30 p.m.

Series: Mesa leads 5-4-1. The Mavericks defeated CSU-Pueblo 26-3 in the ThunderWolves’ first season after the program was reinstated.

Mesa State

Coach: Joe Ramunno, 12th year, 71-60

Last year: 6-5 (6-3 RMAC)

Last week: Lost to Colorado School of Mines 23-17

Noteworthy: Mesa State running back Joey Applehans had surgery on his broken left ankle this week and is out for the season. Center Ryan Swope (knee) is out this week. The Mavericks are last in the RMAC in pass defense (284.3 yards allowed per game), but are second in the RMAC in interceptions with nine. Linebacker Bennett Newton leads the RMAC with 68 tackles (11.3 per game).


Coach: John Wristen, 2nd year, 7-9

Last year: 4-6 (3-6 RMAC)

Last week: Lost at Nebraska-Kearney 44-12

Noteworthy: The ThunderWolves ended Chadron State’s 28-game RMAC win streak three weeks ago with a 28-17 victory in Chadron, but have lost their past two games by a combined score of 75-19 to Mines and Kearney. CSU-Pueblo leads the RMAC in turnover margin (+9) and in interceptions (13). Cornerback Chris Brown leads the RMAC in interceptions with four.

— Allen Gemaehlich

Chad Benkelman planned to play football and get an education at Chadron (Neb.) State College.

His life changed dramatically in the fall of 2007.

Benkelman was a freshman on the Eagles’ scout team when his father, Charles, died from heart complications, Benkelman said.

“I needed to be closer to home,” he said. “I needed something different in my life.”

The youngest of two children, Benkelman decided to transfer to be closer to his mother, who planned to move to Parachute after Chad’s father died.

Chadron State coach Bill O’Boyle, the 2007 NCAA Division II national coach of the year, told Benkelman that Mesa State would be a good place for him.

“I understand his circumstances,” O’Boyle said. “That’s above any football deal. I respect the hell out of the kid and out of Joe and his staff. The thing is I wanted to see him stay in school and get his degree.

“I’m happy for him. The only thing is now we have to go against him. (Defensive coordinator Todd) Auer is sick about it.”

Although Benkelman grew up in Elbert, a small town east of Colorado Springs, his family spent a lot of time in the mountains.

“This is a lot more familiar territory for me,” Benkelman said. “We’d come up to the mountains often. I have a good friend in Rifle.”

The move, though, didn’t work out for his mother, who stayed in Elbert, close to family friends.

“It’s not too bad,” Benkelman said. “It’s 4½, 5 hours from home. I talk to Mom quite a bit. We stay close.”

Benkelman was close to his dad, and has lots of memories.

“When I was in high school, he was on the chain gang,” he said. “He’d always listen to the opposing team coaches and tell me, ‘We’ve got to stop number 22.’ “

College football, though, was a big adjustment for Benkelman. He wasn’t just playing a higher level, he went from playing 8-man football to 11-man football.

“That was a huge change,” he said. “The field is bigger width-wise. It feels slower, but it’s more cluttered.”

Benkelman contributed for the Mavericks right away last season, especially on special teams.

“He is very explosive and has great athletic ability,” Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno said. “He fit in well with our guys. He’s been great for us.

“He understands what he’s doing. He’s got great control of his body. He does a great job making plays on the run.”

The sophomore linebacker has come in this season focused to make a difference.

“I like it a lot more,” Benkelman said. “It’s nice to come in and make an impact.”

Benkelman had three sacks in the Mavericks’ 43-37 victory over Western New Mexico three weeks ago. He leads the team with five sacks this season.

“That game was fun,” he said.

Although he came to Mesa State under less than ideal circumstances, Benkelman has made the most of the move.

“It took me a while to get in my element. Things are coming into place,” he said.

“I found me a home here.”


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