Benkelman’s leadership, play have been key for Mavs
Life has a way of sidetracking a person’s intended goals.
Chad Benkelman knows all about that.
The Colorado Mesa University football player intended to attend Mesa out of high school in 2007, but wasn’t recruited by coach Joe Ramunno and his staff.
Instead, he went to Chadron (Neb.) State College.
Less than a year later, Benkelman’s father died and he opted to return to Colorado to be closer to his mother and sister.
Now, Benkelman is one of the leaders of the Colorado Mesa defense, which has played well enough to keep the Mavericks in most of their games this season.
“Chad is a leader for us,” Ramunno said. “He’s playing better and better. He has given us his heart and soul.”
Colorado Mesa (2-5, 1-4 RMAC) plays eighth-ranked Colorado State University-Pueblo (7-0, 5-0 RMAC) at 6 p.m. Saturday at the ThunderBowl in Pueblo.
Benkelman grew up in Elbert, a small town of less the 300 people, on the eastern plains of Colorado. The high school’s enrollment is less than 100.
He played 8-man football, helping turn the program into a successful one.
Still, he found it hard to get recognized by college coaches.
“In all honesty, I sent stuff here and none of the coaches ever contacted me,” Benkelman said. “It was tough getting much attention. I got more attention for track in high school than football. I’d much rather play football than run the 400.”
Benkelman caught the attention of the Chadron State coaching staff at the Eagles’ 8-man and 6-man summer camp.
Chadron recruited Benkelman as a running back, but moved him to linebacker.
“(Assistant coach Todd) Auer realized I played linebacker in the All-State Games and had me move over,” Benkelman said.
Benkelman settled in, redshirting his freshman year in 2007, but during that season, his father died from heart problems.
After some thought, he decided to come back to Colorado and transferred to Mesa State.
“We definitely have the best facilities of pretty much anyone in the RMAC,” Benkelman said. “CSU-Pueblo probably has the best field, but the school environment is better here. I’m definitely happy where I am.”
Since then, his mother moved to Denver and his sister recently completed law school and is in Denver.
Benkelman quickly made an impression with the Mesa staff, earning a starting role on defense.
“He has great acceleration,” Ramunno said. “He’s saved us a couple times chasing guys down.”
The 6-foot, 220-pound senior linebacker is fourth on the team with 45 tackles this season. He has seven tackles for a loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“One of my original goals was to be successful,” Benkelman said. “This is my third season starting. I was hoping to contribute and do whatever is called of me.”
He has become a leader on campus, too, serving on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and leading the effort to host the Partners program in a flag football game last week.
The Mavericks have given up some big plays on defense, but they’ve made some too, keeping the Mavericks in several games.
“It’s been the little stuff that gets us,” Benkelman said. “We put together pretty much an entire game, but little mistakes have cost us big-time.
“The offense would have a strong game and the defense would not back it up. The last game we didn’t play well the first half, but we put it together in the second half.”