The news broke early that Sunday morning once local news organizations confirmed the worst. It was indeed Cedric Benson and his passenger who had died overnight in a fiery motorcycle crash in West Austin.
Tributes to the former Texas running back were immediate, and within hours, seeing images of Benson’s old game photos and videos were unavoidable. The power and grace of No. 32 powering through tacklers was unmistakable.
UT defensive end Malcolm Roach saw his burnt-orange jersey hanging in his locker and felt overcome. He, too, wears No. 32.
“Just being able to wear that number and have something in common,” Roach said Tuesday, “I feel like it’s big.”
College football fans love their traditions, rivalries and all the trappings of game day. The sport also cherishes legacies. Roach, a hard-charging defensive end from Baton Rouge, La., now has a greater understanding of what it means to carry on a team or person’s memory through his play.
Roach said he and defensive line coach Oscar Giles had a conversation after Benson’s death became public. “He said, ‘Wear that number with pride,’” Roach said. “And when I just sat back and looked, saw that I was wearing 32, I said I’ve got to represent this number right.”
Jersey numbers are serious things to all athletes. At Texas, the school has retired six jerseys to honor those who wore it best: Vince Young’s No. 10, Colt McCoy’s No. 12, Earl Campbell’s No. 20, Bobby Layne’s No. 22, Ricky Williams’ No. 34 and Tommy Nobis’ No. 60.
Jeff Leiding and Britt Hager both became All-Americas wearing No. 60 in the 1980s. Benson, who played at UT from 2001-04, is the only UT All-American who wore No. 32. Johnathan Gray wore that same number from 2012-15 after setting a national high school record with 205 touchdowns at Aledo wearing the same number.
Roach wore 11 in high school. “When I first got here, coach (Charlie) Strong didn’t tell us what number we were going to wear,” Roach said. “So I found out what I was going with on the first day of fall camp. When I saw it was 32, I was like, ‘Man, what am I going to do with No. 32? I always knew it was a running back, really a linebacker number, somebody that’s not playing on the line and things like that. But here, you know, people just told me to go out there and make it look good.”
Roach paused, then added, “That’s one thing I tried to do, make people remember who No. 32 was.”
Current Texas running back Daniel Young also wears 32, but he won’t be on the field for Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. He’s out for several weeks with a high ankle sprain.
That just leaves Roach, who has a similar physical style as Benson. In three seasons, Roach has 94 tackles and five sacks. He was named a team captain this season and, senior center and fellow captain Zach Shackelford said, it was “very well-deserved there.”
The Longhorns will wear a helmet sticker this season honoring Benson’s number.
The one wearing that jersey feels he’s capable of a little more.
“We play different positions, but it’s somebody who is going to go out there with a motor,” Roach said. “Someone who’s not afraid of contact, somebody who’s just going to go hard. I think we have in common a lot. I really see a lot of similarities in the way we play the game of football.”
It does seem a tad ironic that a Louisiana-raised athlete is now sporting the number made famous by two of the best high school athletes Texas ever produced.
“I play for Texas,” Roach said.
Feeling good about RBs?: Quarterback Sam Ehlinger took an optimistic stance Tuesday on the Longhorns’ various running back injuries.
“I honestly think it’s a testament to their work ethic,” Ehlinger said. “When guys are going really hard, they’re bound to get dings and small, little injuries. … I think all of them are going to end up being fine, and I’m very optimistic about that room.”
Sophomore Keaontay Ingram (knee) and freshman Jordan Whittington (sports hernia) are both battling issues. Young (ankle) and senior Kirk Johnson (shoulder) are both likely out until October.
Receiver Collin Johnson noted that all the running back injuries are tough, but “it’s football.”
“You hit, it’s a contact sport,” Johnson said. “And injuries can happen at any given time in football, but we just gotta take care of our bodies, take care of ourselves and just bounce back and do what we can as players.”
Praise for Roschon: Texas coach Tom Herman said Monday that third-string quarterback Roschon Johnson has been working some at running back. Johnson is likely to stay there for the time being as the depth has been ravaged by injuries.
The freshman can play as many as four games before facing a critical decision to sit and redshirt or keep playing. Johnson was a quarterback at Port Neches-Groves. He finished as that school’s all-time leading passer with 7,710 yards and is second all-time with 4,900 yards rushing.
“He stood up when he got his red (helmet) stripe off and was like, ‘I’ll do anything for you guys. I’ll play any position, doesn’t matter, just put me on the field. I just want to play, I want to help,’” Shackelford said.
Boyce gaining confidence: The biggest difference from one’s freshman year to sophomore season might be confidence. Cornerback Jalen Green is playing with it, and safety Brandon Jones said fellow cornerback Kobe Boyce is following suit.
“Kobe just trusts himself a lot more than he did last year,” Jones said. “And he’s one of the most athletic guys on our team.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.