“Skill” position players typically get all the love, but have you heard a head coach say one of his defensive linemen is the best athlete on the team?
That’s what Janesville Craig head coach Adam Bunderson says of 2019 Wisconsin commit Keeanu Benton.
“There’s a couple of our skill guys that would probably argue with me, but he’s the best athlete on our team,” Bunderson said Friday night after a rough 42–7 road loss to Middleton. “When you’re 290 pounds, 6’4, and you’re that good of an athlete—I mean he’s so quick, he’s so quick. Just watch him catch a ball sometime.”
Catch ... a football?
“He’s got the best hands of our team.”
Utilized as a lineman this year, Benton is a key figure on a Cougars team that is 5–2 heading into another Big Eight conference match-up against Madison West this Friday. Bunderson said Benton plays all game on defense and rotates in on offense. Last Friday against Middleton, he saw time at right guard and showcased some physicality on that side of the line of scrimmage.
“I’ve just been working hard on my conditioning mostly and getting stronger and faster so I could earn the right to play both sides of the ball,” Benton said after the game. “It’s definitely hard but I’m doing it for my team and we got to get some more wins off of it.”
Benton has been on varsity since he was a sophomore and has become more vocal over time, Bunderson says.
“[I’ve]just kind of seen him grow up over the last two years to become kind of that guy who holds teammates accountable, talks when they’re in the huddle,” Bunderson said. “I think he’s gotten more comfortable in that role of kind of being a leader and the other guy that sets the tone of the defense with a couple other guys.”
A three-star lineman according to 247Sports and Rivals, Benton acknowledged after the game that he has been working on becoming more aggressive. According to WisSports.net, Benton has recorded 43 tackles, four for loss, through six games (Friday night’s stats have not been made available, but his name was called as being in on a tackle at least a few times).
The in-state standout is not just a force on the football field, as he is also one of the state’s top heavyweight wrestlers. Last season, he was the state runner-up in the WIAA Division 1 285-pound weight class.
“It helps me with my hands way more than anything, my feet, too,” Benton said. “You learn your body leverage and learn how to tilt people over more and just know your limits more.”
On the defensive line, Benton normally lines up in what Bunderson described as a strong-side tackle as a three-technique (outside shoulder of an offensive guard) but has also seen time at end during a game. The in-state product also noted he played in a two-technique (head up on an offensive guard).
Bunderson says the UW staff looks at Benton as an inner lineman, though his prep head coach thinks he could be versatile at the next level.
“I think he’s athletic enough,” Bunderson said. “He could probably, as he gets bigger and stronger, could probably play anywhere along the line.”
Benton said he is working to get to a game “sooner than later.” Benton said he will be coming to the regular-season finale against Minnesota but also hopes to “fit more in before.” He officially visited Wisconsin in early June during a weekend that brought together several future teammates in Logan Brown, Graham Mertz, Joe Tippmann, Hayden Rucci, Marcus Graham, and Spencer Lytle.
“Oh, it was fun,” Benton said with a huge smile. “I got to meet them, and I didn’t know they were going to be that way and it was so fun. They were all excited to see me, and I was excited to see them, and we had a lot of fun with our coaches.”
Benton will become a Badger next season, as he told B5Q that he will not enroll early at UW. When asked what Wisconsin fans should expect out of his lineman, Bunderson mentioned his personality and always having a smile on his face.
“My kids come to practice, and every day, ‘Hey, Caleb, how’s it going?’ high fives,” Bunderson said. “He’s just a neat kid, and I think as he gets older and matures and kind of grows into the thought of being a college football player, I think they’ll see personality, a guy that’s smiling and just having fun. He has a ton of fun.”