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Transfers have given CCSU a spark
Everette Benjamin nearly went to the rival.
When Hofstra disbanded its football team last year, the senior running back needed a new home. He looked at Tennessee-Martin, but didn’t think the location was right for him.
Suddenly, it was down to Central Connecticut and Albany, much like the Northeast Conference race usually is.
“Central beat Albany last year and I went to Albany for a visit and really didn’t like it, I don’t know why,” Benjamin said. “Central gave me a look really last minute. I was on campus a week before school started. But I’m really thankful it worked out.”
It worked out for the Blue Devils, too. Benjamin was recently named the NEC Offensive Player of the Week after his 188 yards and three scores beat Bryant last Saturday. His numbers, combined with 100 yards on the ground by quarterback Gunnar Jespersen, indicated that Central’s running game is finally waking up.
Part of that process was simply gelling as a unit.
“I knew we would start hitting holes, and luckily we did,” Benjamin said. “I definitely feel settled in. I feel like the offense has put a lot of belief in me so I’m definitely thankful to be here. It’s been smooth. Everyone’s been really friendly. I have my boys who transferred in with me and we’re almost like a new team. We came at it together. It’s been one collective thing.”
It took a while for that collective to form. With Benjamin coming from Hofstra and Jespersen from a junior college in California, the defending NEC champions were cool to their new teammates at first.
“The locker room didn’t accept Everette as quickly as they did Gunnar because of Gunnar’s personality,” CCSU coach Jeff McInerney said. “That’s the challenge when you take transfers, you can’t let it upset the locker room because chemistry is a very, very, very important thing and it can turn on you in a New York second. But when you run over people like he does, and you go out and you practice every day, the kids are going to respect you.”
Jespersen was able to gain that respect quicker because of the way he interacted with the team.
“He is so humble. He has the same attitude James Mallory had,” McInerney said. “He’s our offensive leader. He never gets down on himself. He’s special. He wanted to go to Cal Poly where he could run the option. So we knew he could run.”
He also knew his new coaching staff would find ways to fit them in.
“[Offensive coordinator] Tim Stowers as the leader has done a terrific job, and he is a fabulous offensive line coach,” McInerney said. “[Quarterback coach] Adam Lechtenberg has done a great job tutoring Gunnar and Marty Humphrey is a fabulous young coach with the receivers.”
A staff can come up with all the schemes it wants, however, but the players need to execute it. That’s something that’s improving as well.
“We’re blocking better out on the edge, and that’s how you get long runs,” McInerney said. “[Running backs coach] Joe Grace is an expert in player development with the running backs.”
Jespersen’s ability to run the option gives Central a dangerous rushing attack when it’s clicking. That was the case against Bryant, when he cruised past the line almost at will.
“A lot of them were reads, like if the end crashes, I pull the ball,” Jespersen said. “My reads kept telling me to pull it. We have a lot of designed double-run plays unless we’re under center.”
The Blue Devils are designing things well, but their best plays of the year might have been getting Benjamin and Jespersen to come to New Britain.
The Blue Devils are glad they’ll be in white and blue when they’re standing on the sideline at Albany later this year instead of blue and yellow.
By Matt Straub, The Bristol Press