Alone At The Top

Coach Benson's Secret To Success Is A Whole Lot Of Hard Work

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Alone At The Top

Highland football coach Brody Benson talks to his players during a football game against Timpview.

Highland football coach Brody Benson talks to his players during a football game against Timpview.

Maggie Lea

Highland football coach Brody Benson talks to his players during a football game against Timpview.

Maggie Lea

Maggie Lea

Highland football coach Brody Benson talks to his players during a football game against Timpview.

Peach Schilling, Staff Writer

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On the bus trip to Brody Benson’s first game as the Highland head football coach, the Rams hit a traffic jam. Northbound I-15 was a parking lot. And even though Benson and his team left at 3:30 p.m. for Mountain Crest High School — 85 miles north of Highland — Benson had a sick and helpless realization.

It was his first game as a head coach and he was going to be late.

Ironically, being stuck in traffic was the first time Benson had a chance to sit still since he was named head coach just two months earlier.

He hasn’t gone down since, on his way to 105 career victories, making him the winningest coach in Highland’s history.

But it all began with uncertainty.

THE FIRST YEAR

In June 2006, Benson was almost on his way out. He was unsure of how much longer he wanted to coach and was questioning if this was the best career choice for him. That same month, he was offered the head coaching position after the school decided to take a new path.

Ray Groth, previous head coach of the Rams, was let go. And he almost took Benson with him.

“The head coach that was here before was my mentor, so I was kind of on my way out,” Benson said. “That first year was hard not having Ray here.”

Benson had one other coach, Brandon Winn, to work with. One coach to talk to about his offer and what he could do with the team. But Winn was thousands of miles away in Europe.

After several late-night, over-the-ocean calls with Winn, Benson accepted. With no staff and no idea of how he was going to make this happen, he got to work.

Thirteen years down and not done yet, Benson sits atop the Highland record books in total victories, including one state championship to his name. There was no way, sitting on that bus towards Mountain Crest in 2006, that he could have seen this coming.

Sean Swenson, the starting quarterback in 2006, witnessed the process of Benson stepping up to the plate and jumping into that year with many questions about what was ahead.

“Coach Benson took over for my senior year as the head coach, which was super exciting,” Swenson said. “We were both starting that journey together.”

Although every single person who was part of that team was nervous for the new experience, they were all confident and excited for a season consumed with what they enjoy the most.

And so it began. The Highland Rams went into their season with a new coach, a new philosophy, new expectations, many unknown answers, and a whole lot of determination. The Rams literally ran off the bus when they finally made it to Mountain Crest that night, warmed up for 10 minutes, and kicked off.

And they won, 35-7. And then they kept winning, all the way to a region championship and an 8-2 regular season. They played each week with energy and passion, and made it to the state championship game.

“We had 100 percent confidence in coach Benson and his leadership, but playing that game was unbelievable,” Swenson said. “It was a win in itself.”

But winning has never been Benson’s primary goal. And that is what has made him win so much.

A WINNING FORMULA

Everyone loves winning. The feeling of walking away with your team after accomplishing something together can only be described in the very moment. Benson’s philosophy is slightly different, however. In fact, he was unaware that his 105 wins with the Highland Rams had come.

“Wins will take care of themselves,” Benson said. “We always talk about trusting the process. If you do everything in your power to do great, the scoreboard is going to take care of itself.”

Rather than focusing on winning, Benson focuses on what his job as a mentor is. His players are there under his coaching, and they are there solely to be with their friends and to play the sport they love.

The players who come back to the program year after year is what stands out in Benson’s mind. He looks forward to raising these kids as if they are his own and turning them into responsible, kind, great men.

Charlie Cardon, captain of the 2011 football team at Highland, looks up to Coach Benson the same way many others do. During his junior year with the Rams, Cardon blew out his knee and knew that he was never going to play again.

Although Cardon was incapable of playing in games on Friday nights because of his injury, he took part in every other team event with the other boys. He looked up to Benson as more than just a mentor and treated him as more than just a football coach. At the same time, Benson treats all his players as family and would do anything for them if he knew they were in need of help.

“During that time, coach Benson was incredibly supportive,” Cardon said, “Being a part of the Highland football team was one of the most formative parts of my life.”

This is one of many success stories that Benson has made happen with the boys he has worked with. His very top priority is the boys; making sure they are doing okay, making sure they are enjoying their experience, and making sure that what he is doing as a coach is honorable.

Braden Brown, a varsity player in 2006, views Benson in the very same way. Although he only played under him for a single season after coming from Judge Memorial Catholic High School, Benson was, and will always be, one of his biggest supporters.

“For me personally, I tended to get pretty anxious and nervous before games and every time I looked at coach Benson he’d give me his big smile,” Brown said. “I just knew everything was going to be alright.”

Benson is so grateful for the kids that will forever be in his life and will forever remember him. Coaches must be dedicated to what they teach, and all Benson’s players know that he is. This is shown by the number of players who come back years and years after graduation.

“Kids come back that played for this program, they come back through those doors, they come back just to work out, and they come back just to visit and to see myself and the other coaches,” Benson said. “It lets me know that we’re doing something right.”

Heidi Benson, Benson’s wife, loves to watch her husband interact with the players and the other coaches week after week during the “Friday night lights” season. She knows what the coaches are teaching these young kids and has no doubt in her mind that it is just perfect.

“They take so much pride in what they are teaching these boys,” Heidi said. “They are so intentional about what it is that they are teaching and how they are going to help them succeed in life.”

The couple’s one, and only, son, Liam, has learned so much from his dad and the boys on the Highland Rams football team.

Liam looks up to his dad in a way that every father should hope for. After many football games with his dad and working as a water boy for the team, Liam has expressed interest in becoming a football coach when he is older, just like Benson.

But seeing Liam is telling. When he comes to games or practices, he doesn’t just watch. He works.

Family has been the emphasis under Benson. The team is a family and a family might fight and argue, but a family always comes together during tough times. And they all work together.

A PROGRAM BUILT ON WORK

“We say it all the time,” Benson said. “Good things come to those who work their [butts] off!”

Although playing football is fun, exciting, and an incredible experience, it is not for everyone. No one can just walk into Benson’s weight room and expect a spot on his team. One must work. One must work really, really hard.

Ed Lloyd, assistant coach of the Rams, has witnessed kids come in and out of Highland’s football program year after year. From kids who are there to have fun to kids who have dreams of playing professional football, they are all there to prove how hard they can practice.

“We have a saying,” Lloyd said. “Accountability, integrity, responsibility in all that you do.”

Benson and other Highland football coaches teach their players to “breathe the AIR” and to be organized, confident, and very responsible for themselves, their actions, their teammates, and everything else they participate in. They say that this makes the work easier.

“[Benson] preaches hard work,” Fish Smithson, former player for the Rams, said. “Instead of making you always run or lift weights, he wants to make you feel uncomfortable in a way.”

Smithson’s Fridays always consisted of sharing jokes with the team, and this was Benson’s way of getting him out of his shell. Although it may have been nerve-wracking for Smithson at the time, he looks back and appreciates what the action taught him.

He learned how to show effort in a whole new way. Pushing through uncomfortable situations eventually turns them into comfortable situations. Benson’s tactic of “Funny Fish Fridays” made Smithson work hard, yet become closer to everyone on the team.

Although the coaches tell their players to work hard for what they want, they must also remember that the same standards fall into place for themselves. They are the leaders of the program and every single boy is watching what they do.

“[Benson] comes here everyday,” Lloyd said. “He provides a nourishment for this program to grow and to be successful.”

This nourishment is nothing but intense work. Benson takes charge in what he teaches, and without his hard work, he can not expect hard work from his players. But this is not a problem within Highland’s program. This is not a problem because there is not one second when Benson isn’t working.

The hard work put into the Highland football program by Benson, by the other coaches, by the players, by the parents, and by all the other supporters is all for a reason. The coaches want success, the players want time on the field, the parents want to see their kids grow, and the Highland students want to watch their team win.

When people on a team and in a community work hard together and have goals set in their mind, victories will arise.

THE YEAR IT ALL CLICKED…FINALLY

All coaches are recognized for who they are and what they do with their team. Championship titles stand out in everyone’s mind when thinking about one’s reputation, however.

The year of 2010 was Benson’s year to make his mark in the high school football community. Everything just seemed to work perfectly. . .eventually.

Football season started with a loss against Mountain Crest and another loss against Hunter. The next week, a win rolled in against Lone Peak. The Rams won some and lost some, but then beat their long-time rival, East, by 28 points, in the last game of the regular season that they had to win to secure a playoff spot.

The Rams were finally clicking and they were headed into playoffs feeling very, very confident. They won. They won again. And they won again.

On November 19, 2010, the Highland Rams took the state championship — by one point in double overtime against Mountain Crest, the team that beat the Rams in the season’s first game.

Highland’s first state championship win since 1986 may have gone down in history as the best game Utah has ever seen.

“We were kind of the underdogs,” Nate Orchard, a senior on that team, said. “Once we hit playoffs, though, we were unstoppable.”

More anxiety than anyone could ever imagine filled Rice Eccles Stadium that night. The Mountain Crest Mustangs were one play and a yard and a half away from the state title, and the crowd was in their favor.

Ben Johnson, Highland linebacker, however, noticed a flaw in Mountain Crest’s offensive line and made a tackle.

And that was it. The Rams were champions.

Every student, parent, grandparent, sibling, and community member sitting at the University of Utah that night already knew that the Highland Rams were built on toughness and family. The state championship win did nothing but validate that idea.

Benson loved watching his boys take the title that night and knew that each and every single one of them would remember this game forever. Although he could now say he had taken a state title, he will never measure his amount of success on the win.

“Guys would run through a brick wall for [Benson,]” Orchard said. “He is intense, but very well respected.”

Nothing will compare to the countless number of memories Benson has with his numerous Rams football teams. And nothing will compare to the hundreds of players that Benson has influenced for the best.

On that first bus ride, Benson did not know if he was ready for what he had taken on, but he learned a valuable lesson that afternoon — traffic jams will clear up, tough times will become easier, and hard work and perseverance will lead to success.

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