Benjamin undergoes transition to become leader

Fans of the Husky football program know about transition. Over the last three years, the Huskies have had three head coaches, two athletic directors and witnessed the crumbling of a once proud program into an also-ran in the conference standings. Senior linebacker Evan Benjamin knows about change. He's seen it up-close and personal.

Following a solid 2003, that saw him start 8 of 12 games as a safety and where he had a breakout game in the Apple Cup, Benjamin was approached by coaches to make the switch to outside linebacker. It wasn't a move that Benjamin expected to make, but he gladly switched for the team.

"Last year I was definitely thrown to the wolves," Benjamin said with a laugh. "The Fresno State game was definitely an experience. I thought I played well, but there was a lot of stuff I still needed to learn and everything was so fast since I was so close to the line.

"I've watched every game from last year and broke down every play to see what I did and didn't do. I'm still learning right now, but because this is my second year of playing linebacker things have slowed down a lot for me. If you have a nose for the ball and the ‘want to' you can make a lot of plays."

And make a lot of plays he did. Benjamin led the team with 105 tackles and also finished with three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 2.5 sacks. The general opinion of the coaching staff is that the transition went about as well as could be expected.

"Overall he made (the switch) pretty well," linebackers coach Chris Tormey said recently. "His coverage skills are really good. He has a nose for the football and he's physical for a guy his size. He's a little undersized as a linebacker, but he makes up for his lack of size with his explosiveness and speed."

Speaking of size, Benjamin has made a transition in that area as well. Last season, the fourth-year player took on 300-pound linemen and 250-pound tight ends weighing in at a light 210 pounds. This year he has bulked up to a muscular 225 pounds and he feels his strength has improved as a result.

Another strength working in Benjamin's favor is the talent that surrounds him at his position. "Playing with Joe (Lobendahn) and Scott (White) makes my job a lot easier," a thankful Benjamin says nodding in Lobendahn's direction. "I don't really have to worry about too much.

"I know they have their gap and I know that the play will be made. You know that the guy next to you can make the play and you can help if you need to. It makes it easier on you to have guys like that, that you know can play and I know I can trust them."

Tormey also mentioned Benjamin as an important cog in the overall defensive unit. "I expect him to be one of the leaders of our team as a senior," Tormey said. "I expect him to be a big-play player. We're going to rely on him to be a player to get us out of drives and expect his consistency to be at a high level."

And right on queue, Benjamin has stepped up his game so far in fall camp and been a vocal leader on what should be one of the best defenses in the conference.

As far as helping the transition from cellar-dweller's to the top half of the conference's standings, Benjamin and his teammates have looked to the past in order to know what they need to do in the future.

"Defenses from the past, they looked like they had so much fun," Benjamin said, his face lighting up at the thought of the best defense Washington has ever put forth. "We saw some films from the '91 team. It just looked like every play was the game-saving tackle. I think that's what we're trying to get to. Not that we're trying to be like them, because we want to be our own team right now, but we want to have that kind of fun, that kind of intensity of our own.

"I think that's what we've been missing and I think we're going to get that back because we have a lot of guys that are coming back. We've got eight or nine starters coming back. We've got a lot of depth. This fall we're going to be pushing each other to be our best and I'm positive we're going to bring it back."

That transition is one that Husky fans are certainly hoping to see in the very near future.

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