Fabulous Freshman: Benn Reflects on Big Year

The Fighting Illini football team needed a go-to receiver to keep defenses honest, and they recruited a gem in Arrelious Benn. Named Freshman Of The Year in the Big Ten and a Freshman All-American, Benn combines size, power and speed into one exquisite package.

"Being Freshman Of The Year feels pretty good," stated Benn. "It's an honor to get those awards. I feel as though I worked hard for it."

Arrelious should go over 1000 all-purpose yards sometime early in the Rose Bowl. For the season, he has caught 49 balls for 596 yards, rushed 32 times for 158 yards, and returned kickoffs an additional 235 yards in eight attempts. These statistics are outstanding for any freshman, but especially for one who played the whole year with an injured shoulder. Benn underplays his injury and doesn't want extra protection during practices.

"The shoulder feels real good. Sometimes there's some soreness, but I'd like to take this red jersey off. Give me a blue jersey and I'll be all right."

Arrelious takes tremendous pounding but fights through the pain like a true champion. He was a marked man all year, and opponents sometimes tried to knock him out of the game.

"I can remember me running routes and having defenders grabbing my right shoulder. But it's football and that kind of stuff is going to happen."

The Thanksgiving break gave Benn and his teammates their first chance to rest and heal since the start of the season, and it helped.

"It was good to get away. I could get my legs back. I was talking to Coach Locksley that I went right from my high school championship game to spring ball, summer workouts and right to the season. So I didn't have a chance to rest my legs. It was good to get the week off. I have my legs back and I'm running good."

Many friends and supporters questioned Arrelious' decision to attend Illinois when he could have gone to any school in the country. Going home for Thanksgiving gave him a chance to touch bases with the naysayers.

"It felt good. That's (successful season) why I went to Illinois. My doubters asked me why this and why that, so now they know."

Illinois is recruiting a number of wide receivers to compliment Benn and make the passing attack even more explosive. Arrelious is happy to aid the recruiting process by selling Illinois to prospective recruits on their official visits.

"Oh, yeah, it will help tremendously to get the focus off of me and open things up. It will help a lot."

Arrelious scored two touchdowns this year, both in the Penn State game where he exploded onto the national scene with a long kickoff return score and a great tackle-breaking pass reception and run. He has a hunger to reach the endzone many more times before his college days are over. He had a great chance to score in the Northwestern game but slipped and fell on the one yard line.

"It was a killer. I planted off the wrong foot. Sometimes that stuff happens, you know. I'm not perfect. I'm working to get there, but stuff happens sometimes. I looked for more (TD's), but as a freshman I'm in a learning process."

He may still be a freshman, but he has learned quickly. The experience he has gained will make future seasons easier for him.

"My timing has been real good. I told Coach Locks, once I do something once, the second time's going to be crazy. I feel more comfortable, I know what I'm doing, I can just go out and do what I need to do."

Arrelious Benn had a great season, but the best is yet to come. That must be a scary revelation for the rest of the Big Ten.

"I'm just getting my feet wet. Running, receiving, passing, doing punt returns, kick returns, direct snaps. I'm not done yet."

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