For Devin Bennett, the final piece of a family legacy

July 19, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

In the quiet farmland of Pasco, where the scorching summer sun routinely drives temperatures into the triple digits, Devin Bennett wakes up before 5 a.m. to get to work.

Devin Bennett, Liberty High School senior, jumps out at the start of the 400-meter race May 20 during the 3A Sea-King District Championships, qualifying for state with a time of 51.01 seconds. By Greg Farrar

From mid-June to mid-July, he spends between 10 and 12 hours per day on his family’s cherry orchard, loading bins of fruit onto a tractor.

Although Bennett — a 2011 Liberty High School graduate — has come to the farm each summer for the past six years, this is the first year he has taken to grueling manual labor.

The hard work fits perfectly in line with his tremendous work ethic.

It’s a work ethic that led him to success as an athlete. It’s a work ethic that led him to success as a student. And it’s a work ethic he will build upon when he joins the track-and-field team at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a walk-on next year.

Driven by his will to put in the effort, Bennett hopes to become a college decathlete, competing in 10 different events.

It’s a family thing

Devin Bennett is quiet and polite, and when asked whether athleticism runs in his family, he can only chuckle and say “yes.”

His father Wally Bennett was a three-sport athlete in high school and a quarterback at Washington State University, where he started numerous games. His mother Audra was a basketball and field hockey athlete at WSU.

As for Bennett’s three older siblings — Alena, 27, Kara, 23, and Keegan, 20 — all were athletes at Liberty. Alena went on to play college volleyball at the University of Puget Sound; Kara went on to be a track-and-field star at Stanford University.

Keegan played baseball and football as a Patriot, but injuries forced him to take a step back from sports at the college level.

“None of us are world leaders, but we all enjoy it,” Wally Bennett said with a laugh about sports.

However, he said Devin is perhaps even more interested and active in sports than his brother and sisters.

Devin Bennett said he remembers taking up every sport he could as a youngster, playing soccer, baseball and basketball. While at Maywood Middle School, he began his track-and-field career, and when he got to Liberty, he joined the football team as well.

He spent all four years on the football team — playing cornerback and wide receiver — and three years on the basketball team, playing small forward and wing. He spent his first spring at Liberty on the baseball team, but he joined the track-and-field team his sophomore, junior and senior years instead; he said the year away reminded him how much he enjoyed the individual challenges of running and jumping.

Meanwhile, Bennett filled every gap in his schedule with games with his club soccer team — the Greater Renton Football Club — and maintained stellar grades. At graduation, his grade point average was 3.95.

“I stayed busy, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just the way it’s always been: Get good grades and have fun doing sports.”

His siblings also set the bar high academically — his two older sisters graduated as valedictorians with 4.0 grade point averages.

Track and field, and a side of football?

From his first day in a Liberty uniform on the track-and-field team, Devin Bennett was a force to be reckoned with, earning a ticket to state with the school’s 4×400 meter relay team his first season. The team finished eighth in the 3A state championship finals with a time of 3 minutes, 35.77 seconds.

In 2010, he advanced to the finals with the 4×400 team again, this time taking second place with a time of 3:21.47, setting a new school record. He also qualified for the finals in the triple jump and long jump during his junior season, taking eighth and ninth in state with jumps of 44 feet, 8 inches and 20-10 3/4, respectively.

When Bennett came back for his senior season, track-and-field coach Mike Smith said it was up to Bennett what events he chose to do.

“Do you want to be an 800 guy? You’re top three in state,” Smith said. “You want to be a triple jump guy? You’re going to do great in state. You’re going to be a 400 guy? You’re going to do well in state.”

Bennett also took a leading role on the team.

“We call him coach Bennett. We’re like, ‘Coach, take your kids and go do your workout,’” Smith said.

In his final state championship meet, Bennett was back for the 4×400, the triple jump, the long jump and 400-meter run. This time, he was looking for a first-place finish.

He took fourth in the 400 with a time of 51.01, fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 44-8 1/2 and 11th in the long jump, soaring 20-2.

When it came time for the team to line up on the track for the last time in the 4×400, Bennett — the final runner on the relay team — reassured his teammates.

“I said if you give me the lead, I will win the race,” he said. “I was definitely yearning for the school record.”

His teammates Hamilton Noel, Hiron Redmon and Josh Gordon started the race strong, building the lead Bennett had hoped for. When Bennett took the baton, he ran as hard as he could for the finish line.

Although the team was about a half-second short of the record — clocking in with a time of 3:22.08 — they took first place, crossing the finish line two seconds ahead of the second-place team.

“I was really happy when I got it,” he said about taking the baton with the lead. “They’re a great group of guys. They stuck with it.”

Just days after the state championship track-and-field meet, Bennett traveled south to Portland, Ore., for the BorderDuel Track Classic to do the triple jump one last time. He was the only athlete from Liberty to attend.

“I went down there to have one more meet to see if I could pull out a triple jump record,” he said.

With a jump of 44-10, he broke the school record by an inch and a quarter.

On the football field, Bennett worked his way up from the C team, becoming a varsity starter by his junior year, when he proved himself as one of the team’s top defensive players, racking up 38.5 tackles. He also snagged two critical interceptions against Lindbergh High School in the playoffs, robbing Lindbergh of scores and helping the Patriots win in three overtimes.

That, Bennett recalled, was his favorite moment on the football field.

When he came back for his senior season, he was starting on both sides of the ball, racking up 40 receiving yards, 30.5 tackles and two more interceptions.

“He’s obviously an exceptional athlete, and it was really fun to see him have success,” said Steve Valach, Liberty football head coach. “He was really primed to have a great senior year in football, both offensively and defensively.”

Battling through injuries

Bennett’s final year at Liberty was stifled with injuries that made competing an uphill battle. Immediately following his junior season on the track team, Bennett attended a football camp, breaking his foot in a scrimmage.

He spent the summer recovering, and doctors cleared him just in time to play football.

In his first game of the season against the defending 4A state champion Skyline Spartans, Bennett took a blow that caused a slight separation in his hip.

“I was dragging down Kasen Williams,” he said. “He landed right on top of me, right in the pelvic area.”

The hip injury caused him to miss several games, but when doctors told him he couldn’t make the injury any worse, he returned to the field to help Liberty on its quest into the playoffs.

“I took that to heart, and kind of played through the aches and pains,” Bennett said.

Although Bennett made countless trips to the physical therapist, healing took time. It wasn’t until April that he returned to full strength.

Heading south

As Bennett returns from Pasco this summer, he will return to running and lifting weights to prepare for his transition to college. He is working with a decathlete coach, learning new workouts and preparing for new events, such as the shot put, javelin and pole vault.

Bennett does not have a track scholarship from the university, but he has already been approved for the team as a walk-on.

He will move to California in September, and will pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

For Wally and Audra, seeing Devin go away to college marks the end of an era.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, either coaching or watching,” Wally Bennett said. “We’ve been to athletic events since our oldest one was in fourth grade. I can remember when all four were playing soccer where we’d have anywhere from four to six soccer games in a weekend.”

Wally Bennett said he is proud of Devin, his third child to become a college athlete without a scholarship.

“I’m real pleased that my kids are interested in doing athletics without the enticement of a scholarship,” he said. “I see way too many people chasing athletic scholarships only to find out it’s not what they thought it would be.”

For Bennett’s coaches, it’s also an occasion of mixed feelings.

“We’ll miss him. He was a big part of what we did the last two years,” Valach said. “It’s good to see him have success. He deserves it.”

As for Smith, he jokingly said he wished the Bennett household would adopt a child so he wouldn’t have to say goodbye to the family.

Still, he said Devin Bennett was a rare athlete.

“Can I get another one? Can I get another Devin? I don’t know,” Smith said. “You can’t just snap your fingers. You don’t get ones like that very often.”

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