Despite having never played the position, Benavides (6'4, 280) was a quick study and stared all 12 games as a redshirt freshman, earning First Team All-Freshman honors. While he has suffered multiple injuries and surgeries during his time at U of L, he has remained constant in his determination. During his career, he has missed just four games and has started all when available.
"If you think about it, any sports team you have to be strong up the middle," U of L offensive line coach Dave Borberly said of the senior. "Football is the same way. Kid has had I think 47 starts, his play has been pretty consistent in there and he's a guy that has fought through a lot of injuries. He probably still didn't play a game this year totally pain free."
His play this year was crucial to Louisville winning the Big East Conference and earning a spot in the All-State Sugar Bowl.
"There's obviously some things that we as a team, and I personally, would like to have back, like the couple losses we had, but it's tough to win in college football," Benavides told Cardinal Authority. "To be at 10-2 at this point is great and I'm so proud of these guys. I couldn't ask for a better senior year."
"As I look back on my career, this year is one of the best ways to end a senior year. There‘s a lot of good teams who aren‘t playing in a BCS bowl, so this means a lot to me and the team."
During his time at U of L, Benavides has been apart of a program that quickly fell from BCS status to missing out on post season play. Being apart of the senior class that helped the program make its second BCS appearance has given him a greater appreciation for the difficult accomplishment.
"I don't want to say that the younger guys don't appreciate it, because they do, but I do think the older guys have a bigger appreciation for getting to the Sugar Bowl," he explained. "My first couple years here were really, really tough, but I never had a doubt that we could make it back to what it was before we got here. The guys who stuck it out for four or five years, we knew that there was a possibility for change and Coach Strong came in and gave us a jumpstart."
Having had the experience of losing seasons and missing out on bowl games, Benavides has made it a point to emphasize the difficulty of reaching a BCS bowl game to the younger members of the team.
"The message that I've told them is to not take anything for granted," he said. "Regardless of having a lot of talent coming back or not, the game of football is about who has the better team on game day and you're not guaranteed anything. I think the team is going to have more than enough talent to keep things going in the right direction."
Since the end of the regular season, Benavides has been honored as a First Team All-Conference selection and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, an annual award handed out to the nation's top center. Those moments were part of a week that also included his graduation from U of L.
"Being an offensive lineman, it's not in our demeanor to talk about ourselves, but to be considered for that award was, wow," he said. "That was one of the best week's of my life. My family was in town, I just graduated with my business degree and then I was named a Rimington finalist. Only six guys in the country get on that and to be in the company with guys from Alabama, Notre Dame, USC and Penn State was a great moment for me. All the things that I've worked for and all the surgeries that I've been through, it all pays off."
"Most importantly, to get the respect from my teammates and piers in the Big East to make first team All-Conference, which is something I've worked for, was a great feeling."
"He's a guy that, well that's where it all starts for us," said Borberly.
As the Cardinals finished up their pre-holiday Sugar Bowl preparations, they did so with increased intensity.
"You can sense the intensity in practice. I think the coaches did a good job of helping the team understand what this all means. A lot of teams are at home right now, so we understand what this opportunity means."
With check marks next to the team goals of winning another Big East Conference title and earning the league's BCS bid, there's just one goal remaining, and that's to prove the skeptics wrong.
"Our goal right now is to prove everybody wrong," said Benavides.