He was quiet, polite and just a nice kid.
Standing on the Midland Lee high school football field, Cedric Benson was well aware that he was the most in-demand high school running back, and possibly player, in the nation. If he was impressed by his own stature, he never displayed it.
By that point, he and his team were already the subject of a big story by The New York Times, and he had committed to the University of Texas.
This would have been the fall of 2000, when his high school coach was nice enough to arrange a 1-on-1 interview with Benson and myself. Just the two of us, standing on a field after practice.
Cedric Benson was just a polite teenager, blissfully aware that he would live forever.
Ced was a kid, chewing on his mouthpiece waiting to chew up more teams en route to Austin, where he would become one of the best players in the nation.
Less than 20 years later, he’s gone.
Cedric Benson, the last player to lead a West Texas high school to a state title, reportedly was killed in a motorcycle crash in Austin on Saturday night. Multiple outlets are reporting that Benson died in the incident.
He was only 36.
Brian Davis of the Austin-American Statesmen reported, “Several people were gathered at Benson’s West Austin home on West Courtyard Drive and appeared to be mourning outside on a patio. A Facebook post on Sunday morning from Benson’s relative, Dominic Benson, read, “No no no no no no God no!!!! Why him man!!!!! Not Ced man.”
Cedric’s quiet voice and personality never could match his talent, but few people who played Texas high school football were ever as good as Cedric Benson.
Earl Campbell. Adrian Peterson. Billy Sims. Jonathan Gray. El Ced. Vince Young. Kyler Murray.
Where you put the former Midland Lee running back in that discussion is a personal choice, but he will forever belong in that fun debate. When Benson played at Lee, he was “one of those” players who was simply better than every other player on the field; in high school, he was a fully grown adult among kids.
One of Benson’s more memorable plays came during his senior year at Midland Lee, when he scored a touchdown in a playoff game in Austin and flashed the “Hook Em” in the end zone.
Benson had the impossibility of being billed as the next Ricky Williams at Texas, and he was just about as good as the Heisman winner.
By the time El Ced left Austin, he had run for 5,540 yards, the sixth highest total in NCAA history. He won the 2004 Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back.
“Sally and I are just grief stricken with Cedric’s passing. He was as good as you’ll ever see as a football player and as tough as they come,” said Benson’s former coach at UT, Mack Brown. Brown’s wife is Sally. “What I’ll remember most is what a special, special person he was. We always enjoyed talking with him because he was such a bright and unique guy. There will never be another one like him, and he will be dearly missed by so many. It’s just heartbreaking, but we feel very fortunate to have had him in our lives.”
The Chicago Bears made Benson the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and he played eight NFL seasons. He ran for more than 1,000 yards for three straight years, all with the Bengals, from 2009 to 2011.
He played one more year, with the Green Bay Packers, in 2012 and then retired.
While he was a decent player in the NFL, he never could escape legal problems. The Bears cut him after three years in 2008 because of multiple incidents of DUI.
He will be forever remembered as a great player at the University of Texas, one of the best to play high school football in this state. I, like so many others, will simply remember Cedric Benson as a nice kid who is gone far too soon.