Derrick Johnson stood before his Longhorn family on Saturday and spoke from the heart about his old college roommate, Cedric Benson.
Long before Johnson and Benson would become All-Americans at Texas and experience lengthy NFL careers, they were just excitable freshmen moving into the Jester East dorm together in 2001.
“There are so many words that represent Cedric,” Johnson said, standing just feet from Benson’s casket. “But I was thinking, what one word represents Cedric? My teammates know exactly what I’m about to say.
“Ced is so confident, unbelievable confidence,” Johnson told the crowd at St. James Missionary Baptist Church. “Sometimes his confidence makes you say, ‘Did he just say what I think he said?’ ”
Benson died Aug. 17 in a motorcycle accident in West Austin that also killed his passenger, 27-year-old Aamna Najam. He was 36. The family held visitation Friday and then welcomed all for an uplifting service in East Austin, one befitting a truly unique Longhorn legend.
God is good, Johnson told a crowd full of Benson’s extended family members who drove from Midland and a who’s who of UT notables. Every speaker left no doubt that confidence extended into Cedric Myron Benson’s every fiber.
“We were playing a tough game over in Odessa,” said John Parchman, Benson’s coach at Midland Lee. “We weren’t doing very well. He came up and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do this by myself. You’re going to have to give me some help.’ I wasn’t in the best of spirits. I said, ‘Why not? The great ones do.’ ”
Parchman said Benson walked away but came back minutes later and said, “OK, I got you back, Coach.
“I’ll carry it,” Benson told Parchman. “I’ll carry it every time if you need me to carry it. Because I want to be one of those great guys.”
Said Parchman: “And he did.”
After winning three state titles at Lee, Benson arrived at Texas as a No. 1-ranked recruit.
Bruce Chambers, who coached Texas’ running backs, said he typically had the freshmen sit in the back of the room while upperclassmen sat up front. In the first meeting, Benson raised his hand and asked to speak.
“He started walking toward the front,” Chambers said. “He said, ‘Coach, can I just say something?’ OK. He says, ‘Hi, guys, my name is Cedric Benson, but they call me Ced B.’
“Then he says, ‘Who’s the starter at tailback, the position I play?’ ” Chambers added. “A guy raised his hand. Ced said, ‘I want to thank you very much, because you have kept my spot warm.’ ”
Benson’s confidence wasn’t relegated to his position room, either.
Coach Mack Brown had all the freshmen stand before the entire team and say their name, hometown and position. “I get up, Derrick Johnson, Waco, Texas, linebacker. Whew, I’m done,” Johnson said. “Here comes Cedric. True story. ‘Cedric Benson, Midland, Texas, starting running back.’ ”
Benson did start later that year and broke the school’s freshman rushing record with 1,053 yards. He would become just the sixth player in FBS history and first Longhorn to post four straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2001 to 2004.
Benson left UT as the second-greatest rusher in school history with 5,540 yards and ranked first with 1,112 carries. The school is finalizing plans to honor Benson somehow on the Longhorns’ uniforms this season, athletic director Chris Del Conte said.
Dot Hunt-Hayes spoke directly to Benson’s mother Jackqueline. “Our Father in heaven, this Longhorn family, the Longhorn moms and especially every mom standing in this room right now has their arms around you and we’re not letting go,” she said. “We love you and will always be with you.”
Benson’s brother Dominic spoke about their brotherly bond, how Cedric took the rap for something he did when they were kids and had better intuition. Benson’s neighbor Norm Furley, an Austin minister, spoke about how Benson left football behind over the past decade and wanted to have long talks about the Bible.
Furley addressed Benson’s 9-year-old daughter, Nadine, and said when the time comes, anyone in the room would be happy to walk her down the aisle for marriage.
“This is what you have to know about Cedric,” Furley said. “He exhibited the ultimate combination of courage and brokenness and humility.”
The service included outstanding singing, Scripture readings from the Old and New Testament and a video tribute from Texas athletics voiced by Lowell Galindo. Former Longhorn Montrell Flowers put together a touching photo montage that showed Benson’s growth from playful whippersnapper to NFL running back.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a proclamation on Thursday calling it “Cedric Benson Day.” Others weighed in from afar with heartfelt tributes and condolences. Benson was laid to rest in a private interment at the Texas State Cemetery on Monday.
“Second Corinthians 5:8 says to be absent from the body is to be present for the Lord,” Chambers said. “My hope is that I know Cedric is present with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.