The University of Illinois Wide Receiving Corps will be among the best in College Football this year. In this four part series, Paul M. Banks interviews and profiles each of the top four Illini pass catching threats.
Part 4: Arrelious “Rejus” Benn
Talk about saving the best for last- in the final installment of my interview/profiles of the stellar University of Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiving corp, I profile Arrelious ‘Rejus’ Benn. He’s by far the best Illini receiver in a generation. The 6’2”, 214 lb darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate has his share of accolades and hardware including:
• Maxwell Award Candidate
• Biletnikoff Award Candidate
• Preseason Third-Team All-American (Athlon)
• Preseason First-Team All-Big Ten (Athlon)
• Named Big Ten’s Fastest Receiver (The Sporting News)
• Rated the No. 20 player in the nation (The Sporting News)
• Rated the No. 1 wide receiver in the Big Ten (The Sporting News)
• 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
• 2007 Freshman All-American
Almost everyone knows him as Arrelious, but people really close to him call him Rejus. “It’s a nickname that started when I was younger, my father’s nickname was Redus and his real name was Arrelious, so I’m named after him,” Benn said. No word yet if anyone in Rejus’s family is named Kathie Lee (hey hey…thanks I just got in from Champaign-Urbana and boy are my arms tired).
Rejus is from Washington D.C. and prepped at Dunbar, in one of the District’s roughest neighborhoods. He’s come a long way to get here and spoke about the difference between a small town in Central Illinois and the nation’s capital. “It’s been slow, but I like it. D. C. is fast, but it’s always good to get away from the city, and find yourself and just focus on what you need to do…Being in Champaign has really matured me into the person I am and I’ve seen a lot of things from both sides, being in the city and in a place like Champaign.” Despite the distance, his family often makes the trek to see him play. “I always have my mom and younger brothers coming to some games.”
Illinois’ schedule will extend much longer this season as bye weeks will be more frequent, and much later, until the regular season concludes with a December 5th home date against Fresno St. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to go out there in the cold and sweat. Get covered with scarves around my arm, I like just going out there and playing the game, and I hope it snows,” Benn said about the Illini’s adjusted schedule, which is an attempt to be much crisper and ready for a bowl game- should they qualify.
Benn has mid 4.4 speed, but still includes speed in his list of what he feels he needs to improve upon; which is pretty much everything: route-running, pass-catching, the whole package as he puts it. So what about his greatest strength? “For me to be able to do all the things I can do, at my size, I’m not your typical receiver,” Rejus answered. And his game has drawn comparisons to one of the best in the business right now. “For me to labeled as the next Anquan Boldin would be a tremendous complement.”
And you’ll see Benn this fall on special teams, not just in the offense. “That’s my thing, I like to return kicks. Jarrod Fayson, he’s gonna take care of the punt returns, and I’ll get back there some in case he needs a blow. Mostly though, I’ll be doing kickoffs,” Rejus said.
Benn currently projects as a top ten, maybe even top 5 NFL Draft pick in 2010, and that stock could rise when you consider how (unlike in all of 2007, and portions of 2008) he no longer has to deal with any nagging injuries. “I think this is the healthiest I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Benn said at Illini Media Day. Obviously, this prompts the question of whether he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft next off-season. When asked about all the people who assume he’s done with college after this year, Benn said
“The media just does their job. All my focus is on September against Missouri. That decision is for later down the road. I think I would be dishonest if I was thinking about something like that which I’m not, because we have unfinished business here.”
Last year’s 5-7 season, was a devastating disappointment for Benn and the Illini. Following 2007’s 9-4 BCS “Champaign Campaign,” many experts thought Illinois would take the next step forward- or at least remain where they were. “It’s been on our minds since the end of the Northwestern game, it’s been especially on my mind because I was kind of knocked out of that game we missed out on a lot…I wouldn’t say we’re hungry, I’d say we’re starving in terms of going back to a bowl, we had a taste with the Rose Bowl and now we want to know what it feels like to win,” Benn articulated on the program’s big picture before describing the attitude of this year’s squad in training camp “We got a lot of leadership this year, a lot of guys who have stepped up and taken on the role of vocal leaders on the team.”
And the fans are certainly ready for Benn and his teammates to rise. “For Illinois to have not been so good, football wise for a few years, they have a great fan base. Whether we win or lose, our fans are right beside us and I love that.”