Arrelious Benn has always been special, even as a youngster in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Besides his tremendous athleticism, powerful build and skill as a runner and receiver, Benn is also a true leader respected and followed by his Illinois teammates.
He started as a freshman even though he played the whole year with a dislocated shoulder. He caught 67 balls last year for 1055 yards and is a consensus pre-season All-American for 2009. He feels he is ready for his best season.
"I think this is the healthiest I've been since I've been here."
Benn's success and experience have helped him mature a great deal on the field. Illini coach Ron Zook jokes about how Benn hyperventilated before his first college game, but there is no threat of that happening again.
"I know what to expect and what not to expect. I know what I have to do. I can be relaxed."
More than anything, Benn wants to help Illinois win. He has become a strong leader to this end.
"I'm enjoying the idea of being a leader. The reason why I came here was to be a leader and help this football team."
The 6'-2", 225 pounder finds a big difference between living in Champaign-Urbana and his home town. But he believes the lifestyle of a college town has helped him.
"It's slow, but it's always good to get away from the city so you can find yourself and just focus on what you need to do."
Benn is an eloquent spokesman for the Illini offense. He has worked closely with quarterback Juice Williams these past three years. They know and understand each other and what they are capable of doing on a football field. He sees definite maturation in Williams this year.
"Juice has taken on the role of leader. He's been our quarterback, so people assume he is a leader. But he has taken on the role to be a leader. He has become more vocal, and his actions have taken a big step also."
He also sees improvement throughout the entire offense and especially the receivers. In particular, there is much more attention to detail.
"We could be very efficient and know what we need for route running and our blocking. We're all coming together and on one page so we can be perfect. I see a lot of guys' confidence going up, and I see a lot of guys getting on themselves when they make mistakes or drop a ball. Juice gets on himself when he throws an interception."
Benn loves to talk about the offense.
"We have a high-powered offense. We've got a lot of playmakers, a lot of guys with the mindset to go out and take care of business. I think Jarred Fayson is another guy who has the same attributes as me.
"Juice is gonna have a lot of options. I always get on Juice, 'You've got no excuse.' He's gonna do whatever he can to get the ball out, and we're gonna do whatever we can to help."
This Illinois offense might explode on someone this year. Is he excited about the offense' potential?
"Excitement's not even the word. We're pumped because we know what we have. A lot of people don't know. They may hear and see what we have, but they haven't experienced it."
The Illini defense is an unknown commodity, but Benn and his offensive mates must go against it daily in practice. He thinks the defense compliments the offense well.
"We've got a lot of young guys that are gonna fly around. There are a lot of guys that are gonna step up."
Benn hasn't beaten Missouri, the Illini's opponent Saturday in St. Louis. Games the last two years have been frustrating, but he holds no grudges.
"Nah, there's no ill feelings towards Missouri. It's a rivalry game, and we've just got to go out there and beat them. That's a great team."