Arrelious Benn came to Illinois because he believed in the program and wanted to help it succeed. He made good friends with quarterback Juice Williams and worked diligently with him to refine their timing on passes. He built up his already strong body for the hits he was sure to take.
But Benn didn't do all these things for himself. Sure, he is a great receiver who is likely to play many years in the pros. But he knows that lies ahead. What he wants more than anything to help the school he loves.
If there was any doubt about this, Benn had to hold back tears in the post game press conference from the Penn State game. When consoled by the notion he had his best day of the season, all he cared about was the team.
"Yeah, personally. But that don't matter. We didn't win. That's all I care about is winning ball games. Anything I can do to contribute to winning ball games, that's enough. What I want is a W, and I know everybody else wants one."
The Washington D.C. (Dunbar) product caught five balls against Penn State for 96 yards. His big play was a 49 yard reception where he disposed of strong PSU linebacker Josh Hull's tackle and fought brilliantly for extra yards. It was typical Benn, and it came on the pass Williams needed to become Illinois' all-time leader in career total yardage.
Illinois did move the ball better this game, but it wasn't enough to insure victory.
"This was kind of hard to accept, not like Ohio State because this day we were moving the ball well. We had great weather. We had a lot of great things come out of this game. We learn each game."
The Illini offense was expected to be the strength of the team, and yet it took them 8 quarters to score a touchdown against Ohio State and Penn State. Benn agreed the early struggles are shocking for him and his teammates.
"It is, but you learn every game. We're still getting into a rotation for the new offense. Coach Schultz is doing the best job he can do, calling the best plays. We're trying to do our best job to execute. At the end of the day, we're gonna be ok."
Two years removed from the Rose Bowl, does this team need to relearn how to win?< P >"No, we know how to win. I know we know how to win. We've just got to go out there and do it. Knowing how to win and going out and doing it is two different things. We've got to go out there and do it."
Ohio State and Penn State may be the most difficult Big 10 opponents on the schedule, so playing them the first two games didn't help. Other decent teams follow, and yet Benn still believes the Illini can turn things around.
"It's getting tough. We're in Big 10 play. We've got a lot more ball games to play. We lost three the Rose Bowl year. We lost to Michigan, Missouri and Iowa. So we've just got to take care of business."
Benn was removed late in the game after a fierce hit. As the recognized Illini star, he takes more punishment than most of his teammates. He shrugged it off.
"I got hit in the back of the head and got a little dazed. That's football right there."
Benn takes these losses personally. Whatever he can do to turn things around and help his team win games, he will do that and more.