FORT COLLINS – Jake Bennett has always had plenty of green and gold in his closet. The senior center not only grew up rooting for the Rams, but also played his high school ball at Bear Creek.
But did Bennett honestly think he’d be a key contributor for what’s now one of the more prolific offenses in the country?
“Nope,” Bennett responded with a laugh. “Growing up, I was always a CSU fan. But it never really occurred to me that this was a possibility. It’s been kind of a dream come true ever since then.”
Though Bennett earned All-Colorado first time honors as a senior in 2012, he didn’t start talking with college coaches until later in his high school career. Scouting websites listed him as just a two-star prospect.
But Jim McElwain took a chance on the Colorado kid. Following a 2013 season where Bennett redshirted, he was inserted as the starter for 2014. Bennett had about as good of a debut as a center could have as he paved the way for 266 yards on the ground.
Most importantly, though, his performance helped spark what remains CSU’s most recent victory over Colorado.
A season-ending knee injury limited Bennett to just three games in 2014, but he came back strong the next season. A healthy Bennett started all 13 games in Mike Bobo’s first season with the Rams. As a center and left guard, Bennett helped block for an offense that ranked third in the Mountain West in yards per game.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season, Bennett was named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List. He punctuated a solid 2015 campaign with a brilliant follow-up performance. Along with Fred Zerblis, Bennett was named All-Mountain West for his job anchoring an offense that piled on the points down the stretch.
Bobo will count on Bennett to not only replicate last season’s play, but to also bring along several young offensive linemen that include newcomers Ben Knox and Tyler Bjorklund. Without Zerblis, Nick Callender and Paul Thurston, Bennett understands that he must take on a leadership role.
“I feel like the torch has kind of been passed to me,” Bennett said. “Me, Trae (Moxley) and Zack (Golditch) being the older guys, we have to take control of an offensive line that’s got such rich tradition that I’ve kind of been indoctrinated to. So I know what it’s about. It’s our job this year to not let that slip at all and let these younger guys know what the standard is not only for this coaching staff but for what Colorado State is and all the great offensive lines that have come before us.”
It’s no secret that CSU has been a hotbed for offensive line. Most recently, the Rams have put Erik Pears, Weston Richburg and Ty Sambrailo in the NFL. Bennett could be next should he stay healthy and continue his upward trend under Bobo and offensive coordinator Will Friend.
For now, though, Bennett will be co-leading the Rams offense with Nick Stevens. The duo has grown up together at CSU, with both players coming in during the 2013 season. Stevens noted the season-to-season improvement from Bennett.
“I think he’s grown every year since he’s been here,” Stevens said. “I think he knows this offense like the back of his hand. He has the run scheme down to a tee and he can call out anybody’s job on the offensive line. It helps having a guy like that up there. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ll make the correct calls. But it definitely helps to have a double check on that. I’m really excited about what he can do with the line this year. He’s a leader on the team, leader on the offense. I think he’s going to play a really big role in some of those young guys coming along because we’re going to have to have guys step up and be ready for us up front.”
It’s not only Stevens that appreciates what Bennett brings to the offense. Izzy Matthews sees it, too.
“Jake is the natural born leader of this offense,” Matthews said. “Him and Nick (Stevens), hand in hand, lead our offense. When we talk about effort, discipline, and gratitude, that’s what Jake Bennett defines. He just gets out there, works every single day. Coach is howling him and he works every single day. That man’s body is broken down over the years but he’s still taking unlimited amounts of reps with a ‘Yes, sir’ kind of thing. He’s an all-around classy, stand-up kind of guy.”