Maryland senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett has always fought to prove people wrong and reach the position he is in today.
Bennett will soon begin his final season with the Terps, and he’s looking to build upon his success thus far. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Bennett had three interceptions last year and is expected to step into a leadership position for the Terps’ defense in 2022.
The 2021 honorable mention All-Big Ten pick may now be a standout football player in College Park, Md., but he once considered stepping away from football.
Bennett’s football career began when he was 8 years old. He played for the “Eight Mile Giants” in Mobile, Ala. Bennett enjoyed his experience and soon fell in love with the game. But one thing stuck out to him — he was the smallest player on the team. From that moment, Bennett wanted to prove people wrong. He believed he belonged in the sport regardless of his size.
But Bennett did not make his middle school football team a few years later. He wanted to stay involved with the game, so he transferred to another school, where he encountered another obstacle — a lack of playing time.
The obstacles continued once Bennett reached McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile. He did not play as a freshman, but once he got on the field, Bennett was noticeably smaller than the rest of his teammates. He says he must only have been around 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds at the time. Bennett hardly touched the field at first.
“Just watching those guys just playing and doing stuff like that, I felt like I never really had a chance to start or play and get on the field,” Bennett said.
During the summer of 2017 heading into his senior year of high school, Bennett became discouraged and decided that it would be best if he stepped away from football altogether. However, after a phone call with one of his coaches, Bennett changed his mind.
T.J. McCord, one of Bennett’s high school defensive back coaches, encouraged Bennett not to give up the sport. Bennett realized McCord saw potential in him. Bennett kept fighting and returned the following season with a chip on his shoulder.
McCord praised Bennett’s resilience.
“Perseverance is one of his biggest attributes,” McCord said. “When you do get a glimpse of success and you understand the work it takes to get to succeed, it basically becomes second nature. It is a grind.”
By the time his senior season rolled around, Bennett had noticed some positive changes. He finally hit a growth spurt. Bennett had three interceptions and two touchdowns during his first start on the varsity squad, which brought a smile to his face. Everything was starting to pay off.
“That’s when I kind of just started to see the fruits of my labor,” Bennett said.
The Mobile native wanted to keep proving himself to others. Bennett played two years of junior college ball at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas following his high school career.
Andrew Krause, now the special teams coordinator, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for Hutchinson, was immediately impressed by Bennett. After reviewing his high school film, Krause knew he had to meet him. Krause admired Bennett’s skills and envisioned a bright future for him.
“Awesome kid, great athlete, great attitude,” Krause said. “Hungry for knowledge, and [I] just can’t say enough about him.”
However, Bennett hit another roadblock when he injured his ankle as a freshman in 2018.
“I was kind of down. Didn’t really have any aspirations of playing college football at the time,” Bennett said.
But once again, Bennett pushed through. He knew he was strong enough to overcome the situation. Bennett earned first-team All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference honors after posting 22 tackles and two interceptions for Hutchinson in 2019.
Numerous four-year universities expressed interest in Bennett, including Maryland, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Miami, SMU and Louisville. Bennett realized that all of his hard work had started to pay off. He committed to Maryland in December 2019.
“It just gave me hope and confidence, just seeing that coaches really believed in me,” Bennett said. “It just helped me work and stay focused and just have something to work toward.”
Maryland head coach Michael Locksley believed that Bennett would immediately impact the Terps. Locksley said he was drawn in by Bennett’s “elite speed.”
Locksley is proud of all that Bennett has accomplished. He applauded how Bennett conducts himself with his teammates. Locksley described Bennett as a player who always wants the best for his teammates and is willing to do anything to help them improve.
“Leadership is having a positive impact on others. His work ethic, his approach to how he prepares himself for games, how he handles himself off the field, how he manages himself academically,” Locksley said of what Bennett brings to the team. “We’ve got three pillars we look for in a player, which are smart, tough and reliable. And he exudes all three of those characteristics.”
Bennett made his Terps debut at Northwestern in October 2020. He played in all five of Maryland’s games and made two starts during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. A year later, he made 12 starts at cornerback and led all Power Five players in total pass deflections — pass breakups plus interceptions — with 16. He also posted 24 tackles and three interceptions.
Tears filled Bennett’s eyes before the Northwestern game in 2020 and the season-opener against West Virginia in 2021. He took a deep breath each time and realized he had made it. He had the opportunity to do what he loved best while being surrounded by teammates and coaches who believed in him.
“Everything that I worked for, everything I dreamed of, it was coming in place,” Bennett said.
Bennett will have the opportunity to make more memories and further improve his craft in 2022, but this time in a leadership position. He wants to do whatever he can to help his team improve upon last year’s 7-6 record, a process that has started during the offseason.
“Coming into Maryland, I had a lot of guys help me, show me the ropes and show me how to be a Division I athlete,” Bennett said. “And I just feel I owe it to the guys that are coming in right now because those people did it for me. And I feel like I have to do it for the guys coming in.”
Krause, his old coach at Hutchinson, loves that Bennett is having great success at Maryland.
“It’s super special. I get emotional every time I think about it, talk about it,” Krause said. “It’s just like he was my kid or my little brother. And it’s awesome.”
Bennett may have had a long journey, but he credits football for shaping him into the man he is today.
“It showed me that there is always light at the other end of the tunnel and … how to persevere through things,” Bennett said. “When you want something, you work toward it, and so football just showed me a lot of the lessons that are really valuable to me today.”
Above all, Bennett strongly believes that football taught him how to overcome adversity and remain true to himself.
“Just be in the moment, just being present and just focusing on how to be the best version of yourself today,” Bennett said. “Don’t worry about tomorrow.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox