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Friday, October 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Condotta
It all makes sense to Evan Benjamin now.
The days when he watched his friends skip off to football practice without him.
The years he asked his mom and dad when he would get to play and be told, "Not yet."
"They didn't want me to get burned out on football," Benjamin said.
Benjamin is now a junior linebacker for Washington and the fourth-leading tackler in the Pac-10 with 50 in five games.
And the one thing UW coaches never question is Benjamin's desire.
"He's just one of those great-effort guys," said UW linebackers coach Chris Tormey.
Maybe that's because he's making up for lost time.
Benjamin is the son of Tony Benjamin, a former Seattle Seahawks running back who played in the NFL from 1977-79.
After Evan was born in 1983, Tony Benjamin decided that his son would wait to play football until he was in the eighth grade.
"From my experience and perception, football is a sport where there are a lot of collisions and requires a warrior mentality, and I just felt like I wanted him to be at the age where his body would be able to withstand that kind of activity," said Tony Benjamin. "And there are so many other sports that will develop skills, such as soccer and baseball and basketball, that will be applicable to football without necessarily having to put his body through the regimen of football."
But it wasn't always easy for young Evan.
When he was 5, Evan Benjamin saw some of the other neighborhood kids heading off to football practice and grabbed some shoulder pads and a helmet that were lying around the house.
"He would put that on and walk up the street and then come back down the street looking like he was real tired, like he had been at practice with the other kids," said Tony Benjamin. "That would really crack us up.
"He really, really wanted to play, but we stuck to the plan. He played a lot of baseball growing up, and by the time he hit 16, he just kind of lost his interest, and it's very possible that the same thing may have happened with football if he had played football earlier."
By the time he was able to play as an eighth-grader, Benjamin was ready. One of his coaches at the time was John Yarno, an ex-Seahawks teammate of Tony Benjamin's, who called Tony on the first day of practice and said he couldn't believe Evan had never played.
"It just seemed to come naturally to him," said Tony Benjamin. "But most importantly, he enjoyed it and he liked it."
Evan Benjamin became a star at Redmond High, and as a senior, he was recruited heavily by both UW and Duke, the alma mater of his father and mother. Tony admits "it broke our hearts a little" when Evan turned down Duke to stay home. Evan's older sister, Paige, made the same decision a few years earlier when she decided to join the Huskies volleyball team rather than head to Durham, N.C.
Evan was a starter at strong safety as a sophomore last season and made the move to linebacker this year to replace the graduated Marquis Cooper. UW coaches made the switch after seeing how well Benjamin played in the Apple Cup last year. In that game, they altered the defense to move Benjamin closer to the line of scrimmage to take advantage of his tackling skills while lessening his responsibilities to defend receivers one-on-one.
He responded with 10 tackles and two interceptions to earn Pac-10 defensive-player-of-the-week honors.
Tormey said Benjamin adds a lot of speed to the linebacking corps, which has so far been one of the strengths of the UW defense. UW has three of the top six tacklers in the Pac-10, all linebackers inside linebacker Joe Lobendahn is second with 56 and outside linebacker Scott White is sixth with 44.
Tormey thinks Benjamin will be that much better next year if he can gain about 10 pounds. Benjamin is playing at about 215 this season.
"I wasn't too happy about it (moving to linebacker) at first because I wanted to play safety my last two years," he said.
But he likes linebacker now, calling it "an obvious move, a good move."
Kind of like the moves his father made years ago.
"Every year I wanted my mom to sign me up," he said. "When I finally got to play, I just fell in love with it."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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