HAMPTON—The numbers Bethel tailback Sam Bennett is putting up this season are surprising even him. Going into tonight's game against Hampton, he's second in the Peninsula District in rushing yards (883, or 147 per game) and touchdowns (12).
This from a kid who never gained more than 78 yards in a game last year.
"We can't even keep them all at home," said his mother, Cassandra Rogers. "And he's so protective of them. Every time he takes off his shoes, he cleans them and puts them back in the box."
So far, he's certainly putting his cleats to good use.
In the season opener against Kecoughtan, he rushed for 88 yards. That was a career high, but it was nothing compared to what was coming. Over the next four weeks, he ran for 677 yards (169 per game) and scored 12 touchdowns.
At 6-foot and 185 pounds, he's primarily a north-south runner who prefers to first use his power in one-on-one (or more) situations and his speed in the open field.
"I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so I've always idolized Jerome Bettis," Bennett said. "He could put a move on somebody, but he'd lower that shoulder and get the extra yard."
By sheer coincidence, Bennett wears number 36 — just like The Bus. He had tried to get it years ago in youth league but was never able to. When he joined the Bruins prior to his junior year, without asking, he was issued number 36.
It fits him.
"Sam's a hard-nosed runner," Bethel coach Jeff Nelson said. "And he's a great kid."
Bennett was born and raised in the Steel City, but prior to his 10th grade year the family moved to Woodbridge. He played the 2008 season at Potomac High, where he became a starter at fullback.
The following spring, while Bennett was still in 10th grade, the family moved to Hampton and he enrolled at Bethel.
In the first five games of the 2009 season, Bennett had nine rushing attempts for 104 yards. In the sixth, he scored on a 60-yard run against Woodside. The following week, he carried 17 times for 70 yards in a loss to Hampton.
"It took me a while to get used to the offense," said Bennett, who finished with 380 yards and four touchdowns. "We had played the veer at Potomac, and I wasn't used to the spread. But once I got used to it, I got good at it. Until that one day they said, 'We're going to start you this week.'"
Recruiters didn't notice Bennett much last year, but they're starting to now. He has no offers, but he's seen a rise in interest.
"Some schools I never thought would give me the time of day," he said, "like Marshall, West Virginia, Maryland, Boston College."
Off the field, Bennett does his best live a simple life. He has a part-time job at Chuck E. Cheese's, where "a kid can be a kid." He helps out with youth football. He hangs out with teammates William Burrell, Gaston Ledford and Chris Copeland — "people who want to go to college and have the same goals as me."
In class, he normally sits in the back. Not because he doesn't know the answer, but because he just prefers it. He wants no part of calling attention himself, either in the halls at school or on the field.