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Jaguars WR Arrelious Benn on Illini: 'I chose to go there for a reason'

Arrelious Benn still follows the Illini, is a big supporter of Lovie Smith and hopes more top recruits take a path to Illinois

Arrelious Benn proved he didn't just ride his superior talent to success. Perseverance played a part too.

After missing three NFL seasons due to shoulder, collarbone and knee injuries, Benn clawed his way back to the NFL. And when he received his opportunity, the Illinois product and Washington D.C. native made the most of it.

Benn broke Chicago Bears fans' hearts with his 51-yard game-winning touchdown catch and run in the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-16 win Sunday. But the section of Bears fans who double as Illini fans took some joy in the former Illinois star's career revival moment.

The reception marked Benn's first touchdown and first grab of 10-plus yards since 2011, his second year in the league. The former second-round pick and 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year totaled just four receptions the previous four seasons -- not playing in a single game since 2012 due to a myriad of injuries. 

Benn caught up with Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner Tuesday on the "Tay and J Show" on ESPN Radio 93.5 in Champaign to discuss his career comeback, Lovie Smith and his recruitment to Illinois.

We've been following your career since you left Illinois. I know there have been so many injuries along the way, so what was that game-winning touchdown like against the Bears? Take us into that moment.

Arrelious Benn: "The touchdown was just any ordinary play that we get called up. My number was called, and I had to go out there and make a play. That's just what I did."

How  gratifying was that after all the time that you missed (didn't play 2013-2015) with the injuries?

Benn: "It was sort of surreal, but I wasn't surprised because of the amount of hard work that I've put in. I've overcome all the obstacles that I had in front of me. I just kept going and stayed positive with things and had that confidence in myself that I'd get there. No matter how I'd get there, I'd end up there."

Some people wouldn't fight through that after not having a catch in the NFL for so long, not having a catch since 2012. They wouldn't fight through it. Why did you? What really drove you to fight through?

Benn: "I think my faith in God and pretty much just knowing that I could do it. And not only that I could show myself I could do it but that I could show people that no matter the obstacle in life, no matter what, you just keep going through it and make the right decisions and you'll be OK."

What's it like playing for the Khan family? Shad (a UI graduate and owner of the Jaguars) and his family are big Illini fans.

Benn: "It's awesome. It's a great organization. They're just some of the best, some of the best people I've been around. They're great support. Everything happens for a reason. It's crazy. I'm thankful."

Have you gone one-on-one on your former (Washington D.C.) Dunbar High School and Illini teammate Vontae Davis yet?

Benn: "Not yet. I had a chance to block him when we played them out in London, but I haven't had a chance yet. That's something I definitely look forward to (Benn's Jaguars play Davis' Colts on Jan. 1), and I'm sure he does too."

I know they're struggling Year One, but I got to ask you, what do  you think of Lovie Smith coaching your Illini?

Benn: "Man, I'm excited. I'm so excited. I had the chance to get up there for a game during our bye week, but my game got canceled because of the storm (Hurricane Matthew) we had here in Florida. So I haven't had a chance to get up there and see him, but I'm excited about it. What Lovie has done in the NFL and what he's going to do for our program, it's definitely going to be something exciting to see."

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What's it been like watching this program ever since Ron Zook was let go? It really spiraled down. It's probably been difficult to watch.

Benn: "Nah, I wouldn't say that because I chose Illinois. I chose to go there for a reason. I wouldn't have made it any other way. I would've chose Illinois over and over again. I'm a die-hard Illinois fan. I bleed orange and blue. I know they're going to turn things around. It's a great program. I'm always going to be with them whether they win or lose. They're going to turn the corner, and they have a great coach with Lovie Smith."

How does Lovie Smith recruit a guy like you? What did Ron Zook and Mike Locksley do that Lovie Smith needs to do to get a guy like you?

Benn: "Honestly, I think that they got to get a guy that's not afraid to be different, not afraid to go against the grain. I look back at it and ... people told me I wasn't going to win at Illinois and 'Illinois this that and the other.' I could've gone to USC, Notre Dame, anywhere. But I chose to stick it out and go with the underdog and prove people wrong. You got to have someone who wants to go out there and prove people wrong and go do it themselves."

How do you say no to USC and Notre Dame when everyone expects you to go to a place like that?

Benn: "Just because someone says you should go there because how the program is this, that and the other, you write your own story. You don't have to follow anybody else's story. Go create your own."

Listen to Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner's entire interview with former Illini Arrelious Benn below:

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