Explosive Benn Finally Back to Full Speed

One Illini football player was barely recognizable the first day of practice. Arrelious Benn was not dressed in a red shirt. After avoiding contact all last season to save his dislocated shoulder for the games, Benn is now at full speed and ready to bust loose.

Arrelious is making up for lost time in Camp Rantoul this fall.

"I'm gonna treat every scrimmage and practice like it's a real game. I've still got to be careful, but it's a tremendous difference. I get tackled now, I don't have to wait until the games on Saturdays. It feels good to be out here without a red jersey."

The All-American from Washington, D. C., Dunbar High School was sensational as a freshman receiver despite playing all year with a shoulder harness that limited his game. He caught 54 passes for 676 yards and two touchdowns while also averaging nearly 5 yards per carry as a runner. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

But even then, a big part of his overall game was missing, including a devastating stiff arm that frees him from oncoming tacklers. How much was was his talent restricted?

"A lot of it. A lot of plays didn't get called my way because of wondering about my health. I wasn't 100% last year, but now I am. My shoulder is strong now."

The man with stars tattooed on his shoulders is not shy about discussing his ability. But he is just supremely confident, not boastful. He knows what he can do, and he proves it daily. His immense skill set and eagerness to become involved in a diversified offense that could utilize him in a variety of ways helped sell him on Illinois.

"I was looking for an offense where I could not only be a receiver but could use more of my versatility. A spread attack fits that well. It's a fast offense. You don't know where the ball's coming at times.

"You've got to have certain players to run it properly. If we didn't have quarterbacks like Juice (Williams) and Eddie (McGee), we probably couldn't run the option attack. I was looking for a quarterback, a team that was on the upcoming, and where we can win and I can get the ball in my hands."

Besides receiving and joining the backfield for running plays, Benn also plans to return kicks and is still deciding about punts. Despite his early success, he still has plenty to learn. He is working hard to overcome mistakes and become a more accomplished player.

"Just keep pushing myself for what I have to do, and just doing it. Learning the offense better, how to read defenses, and knowing what I have to do."

The 6'-2", 214 pounder is excited about the potential of this year's offense.

"Practice is going good. We look tremendously better as an offense. We're toughened up. A lot of guys that played last year are back on the team, so we're not a young team offensively. We're coming out and executing plays."

Arrelious is especially pleased with the progress of his starting quarterback.

"I give him (Juice) an A- right now. He's gonna get that A+ in the Missouri game. He's just picked up as a passer. People are gonna figure out he's more of a passer, and we're more of a passing team. We can run the ball, and we can pass the ball. He's very confident now. He's getting there."

Arrelious is also pleased with the athleticism and depth of the entire receiving corps. This helps prevent opponents from keying solely on him.

"Jeff Cumberland, Oh-Oh (Michael Hoomanawanui), Chris James and Chris Duvalt, a lot of guys that played last year are getting in the rotation. And a lot of young guys are coming up. Once they learn the offense, they're gonna take off. We've got a lot of athletes who can do a lot of things."

Benn is still considered an underclassman, but he is already beginning to serve a leadership role by helping the talented freshman receiver group now practicing with him at Camp Rantoul.

"Yeah, because I know how good these guys are gonna be. When they get to that next stage sophomore year, things are gonna take off for them."

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