Coastal Carolina senior DeMario Bennett returns to familiar turf this weekend as the Chanticleers visit South Carolina, but don’t mistake this as a homecoming of any sort for the wide receiver.
“I hate when people keep telling me I’m going home,” he said Wednesday. “I am home.”
Bennett spent his first two years of college with the Gamecocks, making one catch in eight games as a redshirt-freshman before opting to transfer to Coastal. He wanted an opportunity to get on the field and prove himself, and in three seasons with the Chants he’s no doubt left his mark.
Heading into Coastal’s regular-season finale at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, Bennett ranks fourth in program history in career receiving yards (1,333) and receptions (95) – and could still rise a spot in both categories – and is tied for third in receiving touchdowns (13).
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Looking back, he has no regrets about the decision to transfer out of the SEC and down to the FCS level at Coastal. It was pretty simple, he says – he wanted to play and felt he had to leave for that to happen.
“I think everything has played out well,” he said. “I came here to play football, and that’s what I’m doing – I’m playing and we’re winning, so I think it was a good [transition].”
Bennett has settled in nicely with offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s uptempo offensive system these last two years while contributing to two of the most successful season in program history.
He was second on the team last fall with 599 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – ranking fourth at the time on Coastal’s all-time single-season list for catches (43) and receiving yards.
He’s on pace to surpass both of those numbers this year with 38 catches for 570 yards so far, ranking second on the team again behind fellow senior Matt Hazel.
“[He has] just an incredible coachability,” Coastal receivers coach Renato Diaz said. “He listens and adapts to coaching so well, and you’ll see all the coaching points come out in practice either that day or the next day. He listens and he executes and he applies them immediately. That is just a tremendous asset that applies not just to football but in his normal life when he graduates from here.”
As for this week, Bennett insists it’s just another game. He repeated that a couple times during Coastal’s weekly football news conference.
He said he still knows about 25 or so players on the South Carolina team and maintains a good relationship with quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.
But it’s not a game he’s had circled on the calendar; it’s just the next game on the schedule.
“He’s stoic as can be,” Diaz added. “He’s one of those kids that he goes to work every week, it doesn’t matter the opponent.”
Speaking again before practice Wednesday evening, Bennett allows that, yeah, he does have a significant amount of motivation this week, but it doesn’t have anything to do with his two years spent on the Gamecocks’ roster.
“I definitely want to have a big game,” he said. “As far as [this being] my last year, and pro scouts, they want to see how we play against top-notch teams. [It’s a chance] to show them what we really can do.”
That’s all he wanted when he arrived at Coastal two and a half years ago, and as far as he’s concerned, Saturday is just another opportunity to perform on the field -- it just so happens to be in Columbia.