“It takes something special for me to leave,” said 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch, regarding his hometown Katy, TX.
“UCLA is something special.”
The gentle giant is a family man, one whose recruiting process has been deeply entrenched in his familial relationships. Every step of the way, his family has been his guiding light.
Case in point: Benenoch was committed to Michigan State in March 2012, then a little-known three-star offensive guard out of Katy, TX, that held offers from Kansas State, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tulane in addition to Michigan State. At the time, the commitment made sense, given what the Spartans had to offer.
With no offers from major in-state schools, it seemed like the easy decision to ride the pine.
But then Texas offered, then Oklahoma and, eventually, Alabama offered. Benenoch went from five total offers to 30 over the course of his school’s spring practices.
All of a sudden, being so far away from home wasn’t all that appealing.
“My mom didn’t want me going all the way up to Michigan,” said Benenoch, whose mother’s say held weight in Caleb’s decision. “So instead of holding up a roster spot, I decommitted.”
In an age where recruits are often too comfortable with hanging onto roster spots without the purpose of committing, there’s something to be said about Benenoch’s decision to re-open up his recruitment process. Instead of leading the coaches on, Benenoch took the noble route and let the coaches know of his decision.
That didn’t help him from the ever-prevalent abuse recruits receive on Twitter, though.
“I got a lot of hateful comments from Michigan State fans,” said Benenoch. “Some sent me direct messages. Some told me I was using the offer as leverage, that I was a troubled person, half of a man.”
“It got me down.”
Of course, Benenoch didn’t stay down for long. Once again guided by his family’s support, the lineman wasn’t deterred or discouraged, with his siblings — his sister, a doctor and his brother, a redshirt sophomore at Baylor — offering him endless support, fostering the maturation process and helping Caleb develop the thick skin required to play at a BCS-level school.
Now, he holds no ill will towards his critics.
“I have no hard feelings towards Michigan State fans,” said Benenoch. “They’re passionate fans.”
“This is college football. We play for them.”
The Journey To Westwood
Benenoch decommitted with the intention of staying closer to home, with the aspirations of being with his loving mother and kid sister, a high school freshman playing hoops.
Of course, UCLA is 300 miles further from Katy, TX, than Michigan State is. With 1,534 miles separating Benenoch’s hometown and UCLA, the notion of distance didn’t seem to matter. But why?
You can thank his mother, once again.
“She signed off on it,” said Benenoch. “If my mom had said, ‘Caleb, you just can’t go that far, you can’t go to UCLA,’ I probably would have stayed uncommitted by now.”
Indeed, the pitch to Benenoch sold the lineman immediately — mainly on the philosophy of the program, the prospect of playing time early on, the direction of the team and, most importantly, the academics — but the heavy-lifting the UCLA coaching staff was responsible for laid with selling the program, and the university, to Caleb’s mother.
And they did it, according to Benenoch.
“She had seen all she needed to see.”
Of course, Caleb wasn’t alone with his mother in this process. His brother, defensive back Josh Benenoch, is a redshirt sophomore at Baylor University, the same team that embarrassed UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.
“There was a lot of smack talk,” said Caleb, who had committed just 17 days before UCLA showed up for its spanking in San Diego, CA.
But through the friendly trash-talk was nothing but brotherly love.
“He told me he was proud of me,” Caleb said.
Of course, the elder Benenoch played a key role in Caleb’s decision, too. Though an active recruiter for Baylor to lobby Caleb to join him in Waco, TX, Josh Benenoch offered Caleb support and advice.
“I spoke with him for an hour after I committed [to UCLA],” said Caleb.
Much like most caring older brothers would, he was making sure Caleb wasn’t making such a big decision for all the wrong reasons.
“He wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to California for the girls or the parties,” said the younger Benenoch.
Hitting the Ground Running
It’s no secret that UCLA’s offensive line is young, but it’s also no secret that the unit, though increasingly cohesive as the season went on, has some holes to fill.
Caleb Benenoch figures to be big enough to fill those voids.
Particularly, Benenoch will be vying for graduating senior Jeff Baca’s old spot at guard, and the prospect of playing time was only second to academics in his list of reasons for going to UCLA.
“On good teams, it’s very rare for a true freshman to have the opportunity to start right away,” said Benenoch. “I’ll have that chance.”
Indeed, the coaching staff hasn’t been shy about putting its brightest young talent out on the field, with last year’s offensive line starting true freshman tackle Simon Goines. By the time the season starts, Benenoch figures to have competed for the starting gig over the offseason.
Even with all the help and support Benenoch received, he learned countless lessons during the recruiting process.
What would he tell future recruits going through the same thing?
“Be patient,” said Benenoch. “Don’t let anybody pressure you, take your time and evaluate all your options.”
But most importantly?
“Have fun with it,” said Benenoch.
Seven months until fans will get to see Benenoch in action, joining what followers of recruiting have dubbed “The New Breed” of UCLA footballers.
Is it college football season yet?