Two prominent tailbacks currently lead the pack for the Sun Devils, but what awaits the departure of seniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard is a duo striving for greatness.
Freshman running back Eno Benjamin was rated the sixth best at his position coming out of high school, a tall order for an athlete standing at 5-foot 10-inches.
“I mean you got to play to your strengths,” Benjamin said. “Even in high school, I’ve never been the biggest guy, and that’s something I guess now doesn’t startle me at all, knowing I’m a smaller guy.”
Over the course of his time at Wylie East High School, Benjamin ran for 4,707 yards and 54 rushing touchdowns.
To rack up that many yards and scores, Benjamin perfected his running style. On a basic level, tailbacks are either speed demons or the guys who use the truck-stick too often.
Benjamin is neither.
“Like coach (John) Simon says, it feels like I’m not the biggest, I’m not the fastest, but just being able to outsmart everyone is my goal,” Benjamin said.
A stealthy back, who is patient at the line of scrimmage, is reminiscent of the iconic Bruce Wayne, which is ironic in the sense that Benjamin has been given the nickname “Batman” by the running back coach.
However, Benjamin does not rely on his Batmobile to score; it is his determination and willingness to work.
While Benjamin plays close to his strength of a high football IQ, the second half of the running back duo, freshman Trelon Smith chooses a different way to humiliate opposing defenses.
Smith is the speedster, the type of runner that leaves a defender in his dust.
His 4,467 rush yards and 47 rushing touchdowns earned him 12 collegiate offers.
When Benjamin and Smith first stepped onto the practice fields alongside the one-two punch of Ballage and Richard, the young bucks knew they were not going to break any records out of the gate.
“We started off with the threes. They moved us up in the depth chart,” Smith said. “We getting used to the speed real well.”
Despite being a freshman, he doesn’t have a freshman mentality. Smith said that he and Benjamin are striving to be the best they can be, which first means soaking up every ounce of knowledge from Ballage and Richard.
“It’s just repeating itself,” Smith said. “When they (Ballage and Richard) came in, they did what they had to do. Now it’s me and Eno’s turn.”
For the duo, the adjustment from big-time starters to second- and third-string contributors has been made in practice, but when the backs hit the field for their first game, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Benjamin and Smith have combined for a total of five carries and seven yards, which is not the expectation for two freshmen who were not redshirted.
However, running backs coach John Simon said he believes the pair has endless potential.
“I think they have just as high a ceiling as any guy that’s ever played here,” Simon said. “I think they are both two talented young men. It won’t be because of their talent … it’s going to be about how committed they are to the structure and discipline that we ask you to do on and off the field ... If they do that they can be really special.”