ShareThis Page

Pitt RB Bennett proves resilient

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt running back Isaac Bennett cuts back against Florida State's Tyler Hunter on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Isaac Bennett cuts back against Florida State's Tyler Hunter on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Junior running back Isaac Bennett arrived at Pitt two years ago, lured by a scholarship to a BCS school and the desire to see the world beyond Tulsa, Okla.

A respected star in his hometown, he was a largely ignored freshman in Pittsburgh. Yet he was content to sit, watch and learn from veteran backs Ray Graham and Zach Brown.

Injuries forced him into the lineup, interrupting his redshirt year, but he happily bailed out the team by averaging 4.1 yards per carry over the final five games.

The next year, freshman hot shot Rushel Shell came along with plenty of hype and press clippings to back up Graham, reducing Bennett to 29 carries in 13 games. He didn't say a word.

This spring, Bennett was No. 2 on the depth chart until Shell decided to transfer and — again — it was Bennett to the rescue.

He's not the biggest or fastest, but no one worked harder. Whether it was good news or bad, he never flinched, and finally the No. 1 job was his entering summer camp.

Misfortune interceded, however, and Bennett hurt his knee after three days of practice. While Bennett spent two weeks recovering, his stomach churned from the angst of inactivity.

“It was hard,” he said, “seeing those guys, especially young guys, taking most of the reps and me wanting to get out there and grind with the team.”

Meanwhile, freshman James Conner started turning heads and stealing carries. Suddenly, Bennett had competition again.

Give Bennett credit for this much: He diligently did his duty during rehabilitation and — when it was time to start the season — he carried nine times for 35 yards while the running game was an afterthought in a 41-13 loss to Florida State on Monday night.

He said he'll gladly share time with Conner — or anyone else — the rest of the season.

“Just seeing him run inspires me,” Bennett said of Conner. “He's so big, 240 or so, and he carries it real nice. I looked in his eyes. He was ready to go, focused, determined.”

Bennett said the knee is pain-free, and he would have welcomed — and withstood — 15 or 20 carries, had the situation demanded it.

“I could handle whatever they throw at me,” he said.

Without a marquee star at running back, coach Paul Chryst will rotate Bennett and Conner, who also carried nine times for 34 yards against Florida State. Sophomore Malcolm Crockett and freshman Rachid Ibrahim could figure in the mix, too.

“Coach rotates as he feels is necessary, and we just go with the flow,” Bennett said. “If he wants to put everybody in, it's fine with me, as long as we get those yards.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.