Seth Benson’s recruiting story has a familiar ring to it.
The middle linebacker from Washington High School in Sioux Falls was headed to home-state South Dakota State as a legacy recruit. Then Iowa offered a scholarship at the last minute and Benson had a change of heart.
It is a strikingly similar story to the one that brought another middle linebacker, Josey Jewell, to Iowa in 2013. Jewell, from Decorah, was headed to home-town Luther College until Iowa offered a scholarship at the 23rd hour.
Jewell left as a consensus all-American in 2017, winning both the Big Ten’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year Awards. He now makes his living playing linebacker for the Denver Broncos.
Benson’s dad, Chuck, led South Dakota State in rushing in 1977 and was team captain in 1978. His mom, JoElle, played basketball for the Jackrabbits and led the team in field-goal percentage and blocked shots in 1985-86. His brother, Austin, also played football there and his sister, Ellie, played volleyball.
So changing course from a commitment he had made six months earlier was not an easy one to make for the South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year. He wrestled with loyalty versus opportunity, and asked another former South Dakota prep football star for advice.
It was Chad Greenway, who played eight-man football at Mount Vernon, S.D., and got his only Power Five offer from Iowa. Greenway was a two-time first-team all-Big Ten linebacker for the Hawkeyes. He was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft and played all of his 11 NFL seasons with the Vikings.
“Here’s a kid that had committed himself to Brookings, and I just wanted to help him,” Greenway told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “His questions were almost exactly the same questions I had. It’s OK to take a chance at your dream. The reality is that not every kid gets that chance. Going to Iowa City, he fits the mold. Getting players like him is what they do well there.” Benson’s difficult decision in December of 2017 is starting to pay dividends, to both he and the Hawkeyes.
“It makes you feel blessed for the opportunities you are given,” Benson said. “I want to uphold that each and every day, and improve. I think it puts a little chip on your shoulder, that you’ve got to be the most fundamentally sound guy, with the highest motor. It just pushes you every day to continue to get better.”
After missing the first game last season, Benson started the final seven and was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection. His 47 tackles were second on the team.
Benson and Jack Campbell shared time at middle linebacker in 2020. But Campbell has moved to the weakside linebacker position to replace leading tackler Ben Niemann. Niemann and linebacker Barrington Wade were the kind of senior leaders last season that Benson aspires to be moving forward.
“They were great guys and great leaders, and they pushed us each and every day,” Benson said. “Now we have to uphold that and hopefully do it the same way.”
Having Benson and Campbell, both juniors, on the field at the same time gives Iowa a formidable linebacker tandem.
“It’s been super fun playing with Jack,” said the 6-foot, 231-pound Benson. “He’s really a high motor, fun guy to play next to. We’re just trying to take control and put people in position so they can do well and we can do well.”
It’s safe to say that Benson and Campbell will be better prepared to play the Sept. 4 season opener against Indiana than they were a year ago at Purdue. Both stepped on the field last season with limited experience. And spring ball was canceled because of the pandemic. In addition to Benson missing the first game, Campbell sat out the first three because of mononucleosis.
“Spring ball is a time of learning, a time of fundamentals, a time of pushing things forward,” Benson said. “You’ve got to learn each and every day.”
Last season was more trial by fire.
“Each and every rep you learn something,” Benson said. “Over time, that’s just going to help you learn, help you to be more confident. And you can help other guys come along.” Spring also provides an opportunity for Benson and Campbell to learn from each other, and play on the same page.
“Once something happens, when we come to the sideline he tells me what he sees and I’ll tell him what I see,” Benson said. “We put that together, repetition after repetition. Now I can kind of think what Jack sees here, and he knows what I’m seeing. It helps us to put the defensive line in position to make plays. And it helps us to make plays on the back end as well.”
One thing assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Seth Wallace has done to speed up the learning process and knowledge of the game is to have Benson,Campbell and sophomore Jestin Jacobs, the third starter at linebacker, flip positions in practice.
“Coach Wallace tells us to rotate and puts us in uncomfortable positions so we can learn from it,” Benson said. “Everyone can get a chance to experience everything. Just so we have a better understanding of everything and can continue to improve.”
In addition to putting his linebackers in tough positions, Wallace does it to create flexibility with lineups depending on what look the offense gives them. It also brings some added depth if he has to shuffle pieces due to injury.
“It forces you to see things differently, and even communicate differently,” Wallace said. “That’s really the uncomfortability I’m trying to create.”
Like Jewell, Benson has an opportunity to make the most of his late scholarship offer. A chance to prove to everyone that he made the right decision back in December of 2017.