Benson To Return For Senior Season

How close did <B>Cedric Benson</B> come to skipping his senior season for a chance at NFL millions? "Pretty close," the soft-spoken junior running back from Midland said at a Tuesday afternoon Bellmont press conference, before adding with a smile and a laugh, "very close."

Although Benson said he was "pretty set" on what he was going to do for a while, he did say there was a bit of back and forth in his decision-making process. "There were times I was pretty sure what I was gonna do and there were times I was not sure it was best for me to come back," he said.

Benson, though, eventually followed the path of every high profile junior in the Texas program over Mack Brown's six-plus-years in Austin: he stayed to become a senior on the Forty Acres. Like most of those that came before him, and particularly current teammate and fellow future pro Derrick Johnson, who made the announcement of his return for a final season last week, Benson said that the lure of the elusive ring factored into his decision.

"I'm interested in winning the national championship," he said. "I don't want to come to college and just leave with an education when I came to play football." Benson acknowledged the bowl trophies and other accomplishments of the team, but said having a No. 1 on a ring is the ultimate goal.

"Personally, I'll keep my focal point on the national championship and winning games and keep my personal goals inside," said the Horns' three-time rushing leader. "I'm able to set 'em aside for the team and the guys around me."

Pushed for what he needs to improve on in the off-season -- an off-season where the decision to play baseball is "still up in the air" -- Benson first listed pass blocking ("Obviously," he said), as well as "better my execution on every play" and "reading defenses."

Benson said that despite the areas that he hopes to improve upon, he has "no doubt" that he would have been an NFL first round pick. Even with that lofty assessment, he said, "I don't think there's any limit to how high my (Draft) stock can go if I put work into it."

And Benson said he welcomes the challenge and the pressure of playing an even larger role in the Texas offense with the graduation of Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas. "I'm pretty sure I'll be a focal point if not the main (offensive) key," he said. "It puts a bullseye on your chest losing a lot of talented players around you. But having a bullseye on your chest brings out the best in you."

Mack Brown, who did not attend either Johnson's or Benson's press conference, issued the following statement through the Athletics Media Relations office:

"Just like we were with Derrick (Johnson) a few days ago, we're obviously thrilled that Cedric has decided to return for his senior year. The University of Texas has a rich history of great running backs and in just three seasons, Cedric already has his name listed among them. He's definitely proven worthy of all of the recognition he received as one of the state's all-time great high school running backs and is certainly one of the best running backs I've been around. With another year of development he has a chance to be one of the nation's best backs and we are looking forward to having him back as one of the leaders of our team in 2004."

Benson trails only Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell, both Heisman Trophy winners, on UT's all-time rushing yardage lists. Williams totaled 6,279 yards in his four seasons on the Forty Acres, the Tyler Rose totaled 4,443 yards in four seasons (despite battling injuries) and Benson through three seasons has 3,706 yards, just 737 behind Campbell for second place in the record books. His 45 rushing TDs places him behind only Williams (72) in Longhorn history.

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