Benson: Decision For NFL Draft Is '50-50'

Junior RB <B>Cedric Benson </B>is about as likely to declare for the NFL Draft next month as he is to return for his final season of eligibility. Following Tuesday&#146;s practice at Denius Field, Benson said the odds are &quot;about fifty-fifty&quot; of his turning pro but hinted that he will likely come back to the Forty Acres.

"When you think about it, I might have an opportunity to go first round, maybe the late first round and that’s about five or six million (dollars)," Benson said. "But the way things are rolling right now, and keep it rolling next season, if you’ve got a chance to increase your money by another six million, what would you do?"

So, Ced, are you telling us that you’re coming back?

"That’s kind of a hint, huh?" he laughed, before adding, "I don’t know. Things could change."

Benson rushed for 1,277 yards in 11 games (116 ypg) to rank No. 13 nationally (No. 2 Big 12) at the end of the regular season. No Division I-A athlete topped his 20 rushing touchdowns in 2003.

"It (declaring for the draft) crosses my mind because everyone around me is talking about it," Benson said, "but I’m just trying to stay focused on Washington State. I still got to look good out there and come out with a victory for the team. I’ve been trying to keep it from becoming a distraction and staying focused."

In September, Benson said his decision would be based more on accomplishing personal goals than team goals. On Tuesday, he reversed the field when he stated that a goal that would keep him at Texas would be the long-standing desire for a national championship.

"I can’t put that into other words," Benson said. "All the individual awards and trophies would be neat, too. I’m used to winning championships. Coming out of (Midland Lee) high school, we won three (state titles). I feel like that (winning a championship) is where I belong. I want to be there. I think that would be the neatest thing, the greatest thing."

Still, his numbers during the second half of the season have given him pause to consider the personal benefit of a fourth year. Before the Iowa State game, Benson was averaging just 59.7 ypg. But during the second half of the season, the junior tripled his net rushing output (183.8 ypg).

"Without a doubt it (season) started out rocky," Benson said. "I don’t know what I was doing out there. I didn’t know what was going on. I don’t even think I was there in my head. But I finished up real strong. It kind of put us back on the national mark. Teams are starting to think twice about us now."

Days before Texas’ season-opener against New Mexico State, Benson said that he felt "disrespected" by coaches and teammates and that he was typically pulled from games "right after I started to get rolling."

Six weeks later, Benson was charged with a Class C misdemeanor after reportedly entering a South Austin apartment on Oct. 7 to retrieve a plasma television that he reported stolen last November. The junior was "excused" from the Baylor game to tend to legal matters. (Benson later said he slept during the game and did not listen to it on the radio.)

The off-season changes in position coaches, as well as the mid-season change at quarterback, not only contributed to a sense of uncertainty but also to a program that was initially "destined for destruction," Benson said.

"We had a new running back coach (Michael Haywood) and a new O-line coach (Mac McWhorter) and guys getting comfortable in new positions," he said. "We didn’t have our quarterback situation right when the season started. We were destined for destruction at the beginning. But we got things rolling once everybody got comfortable and got a feel for one another."

While no player has publicly indicated a preference for who should start at quarterback, it was not too difficult to read between the lines of some of Benson’s comments. When asked early this season if more experienced players were committed to picking up the slack while Chance Mock adjusted to the starting role, Benson responded: "You mean to keep him in the game? I have every confidence in Vince (Young)."

There is no doubt Young’s emergence at QB (and the switch to a ‘zone read’ offensive scheme) sprung Benson toward one of the most successful rushing seasons in recent memory. His 283 yards on 35 carries against Texas A&M were not only a career best, it was the most allowed in the history of Aggie football. The flip side, of course, is that SE Roy Williams became the most talented downfield blocker in Longhorn history (13 yards on two catches against the Aggies).

"Guys have to watch (Young) also, and for that second you’ve got your eyes on him, there I go with the football running past you," Benson said. "The other way around is if they’re chasing me on the opposite end of the field, Vince is running on the other sideline. He helped me out tremendously, tremendously, tremendously. He’s helped the running game out so much. I think he’s helped every player out on the field quite a bit."

(Every player, that is, except perhaps Mock. The junior has said he will not make a decision about whether to transfer until after the Holiday Bowl.)

Texas will practice at 9 a.m., Denius Field the remainder of the week before breaking for the weekend. The team departs for San Diego on Dec. 23.


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