Sept. 25, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
If you mention Brandon Bennett's name to South Carolina or Georgia fans, most will conjure up the same image. For Gamecocks fans it was the ecstasy of Bennett diving over the top for a touchdown in a last second win in Athens in 1993, and for Bulldog fans, the late Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson tells of how Bennett broke their hearts. For Bennett, who is now 41 and will be back at Williams-Brice Stadium as the celebrity starter for Saturday's game against Missouri, it's one of many great memories as a Gamecock.
"That's always going to be one of the top memories," Bennett said. "I think that sticks out in everyone else's mind also. Being able to beat Clemson two times in Death Valley was huge. The East Tennessee State game where I set the single game rushing record, that's something I will always remember too."
"I'm proud to be a hometown guy who stayed and played ball here and had a great career doing it."
Bennett finished his career as South Carolina's second all-time leading rusher, and he still holds the single game rushing mark at South Carolina with 278 yards in the 1991 tilt with ETSU. He enjoyed a ten-year career in the NFL and was inducted into University South Carolina Association of Lettermen's Hall of Fame in 2004. With all of those achievements, he still counts earning his degree in 1995 as one of his most important achievements. Now he spends a lot of time working with children and hopes to inspire others to not only reach their potential in athletics, but also in school and the professional world by learning the importance of communication.
"Because I played sports, I thought people, especially young people, might listen to me," Bennett said. "My mother said, like it or not, people are always going to judge you based on what you look like. When you open up your mouth, you can confirm those thoughts or you can change those thoughts. I always wanted to look `the part' and be able to talk `the part' too. You have to think about what you're going to do when you can't play anymore. If you've never been told to look nice and communicate effectively, how do you expect to live after sports?"
Bennett nearly had to learn about life after sports sooner than expected. Despite an outstanding career with the Gamecocks, his name wasn't called in the NFL draft, likely due to a torn abdominal muscle.
"I was hurt and some of those guys said I would never play," Bennett said. "I was blessed to be able to make it happen and come back and be productive."
He signed as a free agent initially with the Cleveland Browns before also having short stints with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. In 1998, he found a home in Cincinnati and played six seasons with the Bengals before playing his final season with the Carolina Panthers in 2004.
Growing up in Taylors, South Carolina, Bennett frequented Columbia to watch his older brother, Bralyn, play football for the Gamecocks before making his own mark at the school. The Bennett brothers were able to play for the Gamecocks at the same time for one season, and Bralyn continued to have an impact on him.
"My brother has always been like a father figure for me," Bennett said. "He was always telling me to do my homework, and making sure I was doing all that I was supposed to. He was four years older than me. He made me do the things I needed to do, and now I'm very thankful for that."
Bennett was also thankful he made the choice to play his college football in South Carolina.
"Being from South Carolina and having people who watched and knew you as a little kid be able to come see you play in college was great," Bennett said. "I'm proud to be a hometown guy who stayed and played ball here and had a great career doing it."
Now that his playing days are over, Bennett has combined his passion for athletics and fitness and his desire to help others be the best they can be to form his own business, 36~Elite, which helps children improve certain athletics skills while also learning the importance of a healthy lifestyle and thinking about their future.
"I'm contacting businesses within the community and asking for shadowing opportunities so these kids will get a real life understanding of what that job entails," Bennett said.
He also works as the director of intramural sports at Southside Christian School in Simpsonville, South Carolina, where he is putting programs in place to help children be more active and to give them an early tutorial in sports.
"We want the kids to try a lot of different sports," Bennett said. "A lot kids may not try some sports because they don't think they can do it, their friends aren't doing it, or maybe they're too nervous to try because they're afraid they won't look good doing it. The kids are getting a real chance to try these different sports for a couple of weeks at a time without having to be committed to it. We hope they find something that they like and can do, and perhaps other kids will play multiple sports instead of just playing one sport."
Bennett is thrilled to be back on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday to lead the "Game-Cocks" cheer prior to kickoff and relive some of those great memories, although he has no plans to try to sneak in with the team as they run out to "2001."
"Even when I was playing, I used to come out last or near the back," Bennett said. "I didn't want to stumble and fall and have all those big guys step all over me. You've got to think ahead."
Bennett and his wife, Shannon, have two sons, Brandon and Braden.
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