Mike Benton was a versatile football player from a pro-Kentucky area. So rather than take a track scholarship to Notre Dame or Western Kentucky, he decided to accept an offer to be a UK¿football walk-on in 2008.
“I won the state 110(-meter) high hurdles two years in a row and my senior year was runnerup in the triple jump. Track was my best sport, hands down,” Benton said. “I was planning on going to Western Kentucky or Notre Dame before I got a call from (UK) coach (Joker) Phillips. Football was where my heart had always been, so I just had to let track go and play football. I know it sounds crazy to some people, but it was where my heart was and I had to take it.”
He’s gone from walk-on to starter, too. He started all 12 games at safety last year and has started all four games at safety this year as well.
“It is unheard of, but it is a blessing from God. I¿just kept working and pushing. I was able to make it from walk-on to scholarship player to starter,” Benton said.
It wasn’t easy.¿He came to UK as an engineering student on an academic scholarship. After his second season, he was not even invited back to early training camp as part of the top 105 players on the team in 2010. Yet he still played in eight games that year at cornerback.
“He was real persistent and worked his tail off and got a chance to get on the field as a special teams player and then moved from a special teams player to a guy that, when we changed defenses (last year), he was one of the guys that picked up and grasped it quicker than anyone, which gave him an opportunity to get on the field and compete. We've used Mikie Benton a lot in homes when we're tying to talk guys into walking on,” Phillips said.
Benton, who played against Danville his senior year, was a 170-pound cornerback when he got to Kentucky. Now he weighs 195 pounds and can take the punishment of playing in the Southeastern Conference.
“It was kind of up in the air whether I¿would play wide receiver or defensive back, so when I got here he made a decision to play DB,” Benton said. “I worked hard. I always had the attitude that I wanted to come in like sponge and absorb all I could so that when I¿got my opportunity, I could play to the best of my ability.
“Year after year, I started to move up. When coach (Rick) Minter came in, they decided to move me to safety and both him and coach (Steve) Brown at the time told me I had a great opportunity. I took it with open arms and when (preseason) camp ended (last year) they told me I was starting.¿I just wanted to keep that spot, so I kept battling hard.”
Benton had 28 tackles and seven pass breakups last year but acknowledges that most UK fans probably couldn’t remember who was UK’s starting safety last season.
“No, they probably wouldn’t know me. I guess I¿don’t have that much publicity with my name, which is perfectly fine any way. I¿am not really too big or worried about individual things. I¿just want to get this team more wins,” Benton, who is sharing time with Dakotah Tyler this season, said.
Benton also¿played basketball three years at Russellville says everybody in his family “played every sport” like he did.
He lives only 30 minutes from Western Kentucky University — which made the loss to WKU¿even more painful for him — and also has a lot of Louisville fans in Russellville. “We have a spotty area of nasty Tennessee fans, too. It is just a good little spread of all teams when it comes to fans,” he said.
However, his mother, Betty, is all blue and always has been.
“My mom is probably the biggest Kentucky football fan ever. It doesn’t matter if it is water polo on or a dog walking contest. It doesn’t matter. If Kentucky is in it, she is screaming at the TV and yelling for it. I grew up a huge Kentucky fan because of her,” Benton said. “Her brothers and sisters are kind of split down the middle with Kentucky and Louisville fans. I guess she just came out a Kentucky fan and has been that way forever.”
He says folks in Russellville “absolutely love” that he is playing for Kentucky.
“I think only one othe person came from Russellville to play on Kentucky’s squad — Tommy Wilkens — and he might actually have played when coach Phillips was there (in 1984). It has been a while. They love it. I just take it with open arms and embrace it every time that I come home,” Benton said.
He always pretended he was NFL star Deion Sanders when he played football as a youngster.
“Deion is probably the first football player that I actually watched and I admired his game so much and tried to do everything like him. In junior pro growing up, I actually played for the Cowboys and I used to practice in a Deion Sanders jersey and wear the bandana and everything like he did. Basically try to be Deion is what I tried to do,” he said.
UK Football: DB Benton glad he followed his heart, picked football over track and field
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