Bennett gets one more chance to prove naysayers wrong

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

[07/19/02]While most of the players in tonight’s Bernard Blackwell Classic all-star football game struggled to deal with three-a-day practices in 90-degree heat this week, Vicksburg High offensive lineman Andre Bennett’s toughest foes were a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff in an air-conditioned doctor’s office.

During a physical on Monday, Bennett was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Doctors also detected a heart murmur he had had since childhood, and considered keeping him out of the all-star game.

After he was passed over for the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game in June, Bennett was worried that he might not get a chance to prove himself as one of the best players in the state. The same massive, 350-pound, 6-foot-5 frame that allows him to dominate opponents was now playing its own cruel game with him.

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“I’m just anxious to play, and I was worried I wasn’t going to get to play,” said Bennett, a Grambling signee. “I was worried … because it was my final proving point. It felt like the whole world was coming down on me.”

After two long days, however, Bennett was cleared to play Wednesday morning. He suited up for that afternoon’s practice, a smile of relief on his face and a hop in his step.

Tonight, he’ll try to bring the world down on the South all-stars when he represents the North along with VHS teammates David Heard and Tim Brown, and Warren Central wide receiver Carlton Bradford at Madison Central. Kickoff is set for 7:30.

“Everybody knows (Bennett) got cheated. He shouldn’t be out here with us, he should have been in the other game,” Brown said. “We should have had at least three offensive linemen playing in either game.”

Like Bennett, all of the VHS players are looking for some respect after their team was slighted in the Mississippi-Alabama game.

“Not having one player to go is kind of depressing,” said Heard, a Mississippi State signee who will start tonight’s game at cornerback.

Through a week of practices, however, the Gators have gotten plenty of respect from their all-star coaches, as well as an unlikely source the three-player all-star delegation from Starkville, which beat VHS in the North State championship game and went on to win the Class 5A state title.

“We got a lot of respect from them, because they know we played a good game against them,” Bennett said.

It was unclear whether Brown or Bennett would start tonight’s game, but both will get plenty of playing time. Brown, a linebacker, will be rotated in regularly, North defensive coordinator Jamie Mitchell of Corinth said.

“We’ve got four good linebackers. I wish we could play all four of them at one time,” Mitchell said.

Brown added that it wasn’t just the linebackers that were solid.

“I don’t like to brag, but our defense is bad,” he said with a smile. “We’ve got 11 pit bulls out there. And our offense is going to score.”

Part of the offensive responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Bradford, a Hinds Community College signee who caught 32 passes for 574 yards and six touchdowns in his senior season at WC.

Bradford said he’s had a good week of practice and expected to earn a start tonight.

“I don’t see nobody else starting above me,” Bradford said. “I’m feeling good in practice. I’m catching most every pass and just having fun.”

Brown may also have a hand in the offense. He said the all-star coaches have tried him at tight end this week, in addition to defensive end and his normal linebacker spot. He won’t get many passes thrown his way, but the opportunity to be a blocker brought a smile to his face.

“It seems like coach is trying to sneak me into different positions on every play,” the Hinds signee said with a laugh. “I just want to hit somebody. It’s fun being with those 300-pound linemen. You’re fixin’ to have the time of your life.”