In his ongoing effort to expand his knowledge and passion for the usually ignored, slightly disconcerting and irredeemably corrupting meat market of college football recruiting in its final hours before Signing Day, SMQ tracked down Illinois commit Arrelious Benn in the nation's capital for his perspective on the trials and triumphs of the recruiting process.
The 6-foot 2-inch D.C. native played both ways at Dunbar High last year and starred at linebacker, but signed with the Illini as the number two prospect in the nation at wide receiver and the twelfth-best overall recruit by the online service Scout.com after catching more than 100 passes for 1,139 yards and 25 touchdowns over the last two years. Benn sat down with SMQ over light tuna and coconut ceviches with avocado at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the majestic reflecting lake on the Washington Mall to talk about his decision to attend Illinois, overcoming adversity in a rough urban neighborhood and his expectations within the Illini offense as a freshman next fall.
SMQ: Okay, first of all, I have to know: where does the name come from?
Arrelious Benn: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, I get that a lot. 'Arrelious,' I don't know. My mom just liked it, I guess, I hadn't ever asked her. People ask me, I'm just like, "Damn, I don't know. Get off me," so it's not something I really think about. But there's only one Arrelious.
SMQ: Well, obviously your talent and your play over the last couple years speaks to that. You're moving away from home, though, pretty far from D.C. How's that adjustment going to work?
AB: Well, you know, the weather's a little different, it's just like, a different sorta town, know what I'm sayin'? D.C. is like, a straight city, right? But it's different to go to a place that's more like a campus-type environment, which is totally different than what I know here. But I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge of competing. Football is football. I'm just gonna go out and do what I do. Big players make big plays in big games.
SMQ: You have a 3.25 GPA, which is better than me in high school, let me tell you. How much did academics factor into the decision?
AB: Aw, grades were huge, definitely, the school part is a big deal. I could have wound up somewhere else where maybe I could have played a little earlier, maybe had it a little easier in the classroom, but my mama wouldn't have it. Wouldn't have none of it. She said, "You going to a place you can get a degree people will respect," and there was no arguing with that.
SMQ: Did Coach Zook make any promises about playing time?
AB: No, no, definitely not. I know what a competitive situation it is there. I'm excited to compete with a couple of the guys they got coming back at receiver to compete for the job. I was excited that I might have the opportunity to run the ball a little bit by what they're doing, opening it up a little more, I think. I don't expect it to be easy at all, but they're making the transition to a more athletic quarterback who might be a little bit better fit in the offense, he's just going to be a sophomore. So he'll be getting better, and we're all adjusting with one another and we'll have a couple years to keep getting better and better and in sync.
SMQ: All things considered, your commitment was somewhat of a surprise. How did Coach Zook bring you on board?
AB: Coach Zook, man, that man is a trip. They see he's got one spped - 100 miles and hour, and he goes that fast all the time. And they ain't lyin'. He took me out, like, jet skiing and that kind of thing, you know. On my visit...
...he took me out on this huge ass lake and we just tore it up in this little boat he had. Coach Z was cool, he was cool, definitely. Introduced me to some girls on campus, took me out on the field and had all the lights on and we tossed the ball around and he was acting all like he was the P.A. guy, throwing it and making me run routes and the whole thing, calling it, like "Benn at the 15, at the 10, Benn's gonna go!! Touchdown, Arrelious Benn!" And he'd do the crowd noise with his mouth and run up to me in the end zone and do the chest bump and everything. He made me douse him with Gatorade. That was kinda weird. But he was kind of more like a buddy than a coach, not like some of the coaches I talked to who felt like they'd be looking over my shoulder all the time. He definitely made me see myself in the orange and blue.
SMQ: It was a bit of a surprise that you chose to go to Illinois, which is a team that has historically struggled and hasn't won recently...
AB: Wait, man, say what? I'm going to play for Ron Zook at Florida, dawg.
SMQ: Wait, I thought you committed to Illinois. [Looking through notes]
AB: Naw, dawg, naw, Florida, man. National champions.
SMQ: But...you signed with Ron Zook.
AB: Yeah. Florida. Tim Tebow, baby.
SMQ: Ron Zook's the coach at Illinois.
AB: No way, he was decked out in Florida shit, we were in the Swamp. Florida cheerleaders huggin' on me with their little garters way up the thigh.
SMQ: Are you sure?
AB: They had little Florida uniforms on...but they were a little pale, come to think of it. And they did call him 'dad.' And the old one had a sweater tied around her neck. [Long pause] He's where?
The Zooks are full of energy and not at all shocked over Arrelious Benn's decision to stake his limitless future in
The Swamp Champaign.
- - -
SMQ: Um, Illinois. The Fighting Illini? He was decked out...he didn't mention he got fired at Florida, like, more than two years ago?
AB: The Fightin' what? Where the hell is that?
SMQ: Illinois? It's...Illinois.
SMQ: They were, um, 2-10 last year. Last place in the Big Ten.
AB: This be some bull shit.
Arrelious Benn is rated as the second-best wide receiver prospect in the nation by Scout.com.