It didn’t take much for Mike Mendenhall to figure out where he would play collegiate football. The junior defensive end had been watching Temple two years prior to graduating from Paulsboro High School in South Jersey. It was there he met his future teammate and friend, senior linebacker Troy Bennett.
“We were always around each other, and it started in high school,” Mendenhall said.
Bennett was two years ahead of Mendenhall in high school. However, despite not being in the same class, the two competed on the same championship team in both football and wrestling.
“We both work hard,” Bennett said. “We just bonded together. We’re there for one another.”
After graduating, Bennett chose Temple. It was convenient for him not being too far away from home, not to mention he was up for the challenge knowing Temple played some of the best teams in the nation. Mendenhall kept a close eye on Bennett and by the time he was ready to graduate, he was also up for the challenge.
“I followed him my last two years of high school and went to some of his games and it eventually came down to me coming here,” Mendenhall said.
The transition from high school to college was easy for Mendenhall with Bennett by his side. While Mendenhall was learning the ropes, Bennett was establishing himself as a defensive threat and never missing a game. By 2003, Bennett had started all 12 games, and Mendenhall was there by his side as he made eight starts as a sophomore.
“It helped me a lot coming here because I knew somebody on the team who could show me the system. It was a big help,” Mendenhall said.
Now in his final season, Bennett has established himself as one of the top tacklers in the country. Mendenhall, only in his third year, is one of the leaders on defense.
Since coming to Temple, both Bennett and Mendenhall believe nothing has changed since their days at Paulsboro. The same character and work ethic the two built in high school has carried over to North Broad Street.
“We’re real cool off the field. I don’t see him that much but when I do see him, we hang out and chill and do whatever,” Bennett said.
“We’re enjoying ourselves,” Mendenhall said. “We’re enjoying the social life of college.”
Their relationship has carried over to their respective families as Bennett’s nephew and Mendenhall’s brother play on the same midget league football team.
Although the Owls have not posted many victories, Bennett is content with what he has accomplished as an Owl. He is a criminal justice major who has been cited on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and has a 3-year-old daughter named Jaida. He has no complaints about this season and is happy he had the opportunity to play college ball.
“I’m close to getting my degree, most importantly,” Bennett said. “I can’t look back and say, ‘I should have done this.’ I just move on.”
With the final game of his career looming, Bennett says he will miss the player-coach relationships he has and, even more, all of his teammates.
“It’s like a family; you can relate to them, they can relate to you. Especially on the defensive side, we just bond together,” Bennett said.
In leaving, Bennett hopes he made an impression on the younger players like Mendenhall. He encourages them to work hard in practice and to turn the program around.
Mendenhall admitted life at Temple will be different without Bennett.
“I’m use to seeing him in the locker room and chit chatting with him in the locker room and on the field, and him being out there as a leader,” Mendenhall said. “It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up in his place. I have to step up in his place as a leader.”
A redeeming moment came for both of them when a picture of Bennett was featured in Sports Illustrated. He stuffed Virginia’s fullback at the goal line in the first game of the season and Mendenhall was in the background of the shot standing.
“I’ll always remember us both being in Sports Illustrated. I’ll always remember that play when Troy lit him up,” Mendenhall said.
Playing football for Temple can be frustrating at times, but Mendenhall said the team tries to keep a positive attitude. He knows they are there to build characteristics that will help them throughout their whole life. Bennett said playing at Temple has taught him life’s lessons and how to overcome adversity.
“[Life is] going to be a lot of struggle,” Bennett said. “[It’s] hard work, sticking to what you want to do and do ing it no matter what the outcome is.”
Donnell Jackson can be reached at email@example.com