September 6, 2011
Walk-on steps into starting role at safety
Mikie Benton is hardly the guy the Kentucky football coaches expected to start at safety in their season opener last Thursday.
Benton, a junior, entered fall camp as an afterthought on the depth chart. Junior Martavius Neloms and senior Mychal Bailey were penciled in as starters. Benton wasn't even the backup, sitting behind seniors Josh Gibbs and Taiedo Smith.
One by one, he worked his way up. Bailey was suspended for the opener, Gibbs left the team and Smith suffered an undisclosed injury. Suddenly, the walk-on was starting his first college football game.
Coaches preach to players about the importance of being ready to play no matter what. Often, though, players like Benton are never called on to play. Getting the chance to make it on the
"Of course I wouldn't wish anything like that to happen to anybody, but when certain things happen people are called on to step up," Benton said. "That's what I've done."
He posted four tackles and a pass breakup in the 14-3 win against Western Kentucky a year after he barely saw the field.
Benton played corner in 2010, but mostly saw the field as a special teams player. He still remembers how nervous he was the first time he made it on the field. He was on the kick return team in UK's win against WKU, trying to shake off the rust. He hadn't gotten into a game since his senior year of high school, in 2011.
One of defensive coordinator Rick Minter's mottos is 'next man up.' Benton didn't enter fall camp as the next guy up, but became the guy when he was told the day before the opener Smith wouldn't be able to go.
"I thought he played well," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said. "He's a smart guy who understands our defense. He actually learned as fast as anybody over there."
Smith didn't practice on Tuesday, and Benton was listed atop the depth chart at safety on Monday. Bailey will return from his suspension, but it's unclear how much he will play.
That puts Benton in a familiar position.
"All the time, coaches say it," Benton said. "But players might not really believe it. I knew going through it last year, I was always one play away. You have to be prepared."
Even before the coaches told him he'd be starting, Benton was preparing himself to play. It was an opportunity he'd been waiting on, even though he never knew if it would come.
"He does things right," Phillips said. "The other two guys, one got hurt, the other didn't do things the right way. So Mikie Benton comes up, gets an opportunity to play. You have to be ready to play, and he was ready. He did a good job for us."
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