Senior running back Bennett quietly filled role during Pitt career
While growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Isaac Bennett’s favorite football player was Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.
Bennett was a state champion long jumper and an all-state running back. Also the son of a preacher and a steady church-goer, he liked watching McCoy run. But he didn’t have time to read his biography.
In 2011, Todd Graham came along, plucked him out of Booker T. Washington High School and offered him a scholarship to Pitt. Bennett quickly accepted, and that’s when it hit him: McCoy went to Pitt, too.
“Oh, really,” Bennett remembers saying at the time, pleased at his discovery. “I really didn’t know anything about the Pittsburgh Panthers. I knew about the basketball team. I really didn’t know anything about the city.”
Now it’s nearly four years later, and Bennett is nearing the end of his Pitt career. The game Saturday in Miami will be his last, unless Pitt wins and earns a bowl berth.
“They say it goes fast,” Bennett said. “Every now and then, I will sit back and say it came and went.”
Bennett was headed toward a redshirt as a freshman when Ray Graham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season’s eighth game. Bennett was a backup for two games before Zach Brown was lost with a pectoral injury. He started the final two games and scored the last Pitt touchdown in the Backyard Brawl — unless West Virginia and Pitt resurrect their rivalry.
Over the next two years, he watched patiently as Pitt recruited Rushel Shell and James Conner and moved them ahead of him on the depth chart.
Yet Bennett never complained. He finished only 2 yards behind Conner last year (799-797) while starting every game.
Bennett is one of only nine players remaining from the 21-man Class of 2011. Only five of those were filling regular roles at the beginning of this season.
Bennett is a survivor, but he is content just to be a contributor.
“He is one of my favorite guys,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “Whatever you ask him to do, he is going to do it with as much focus and as much heart as he can. You appreciate that.”
He said he learned patience from his parents, including his father, who was a preacher in Tulsa.
“He still preaches to me,” Bennett said. “Once a preacher, always a preacher.”
Rudolph also disputes that others have moved ahead him in all categories of the depth chart.
“He is our protector (in pass-blocking),” he said. “He does a heckuva job in the protections. He is going to be in those situations, second-and-long, third down.”
Bennett was forced into duty Saturday when Conner injured his hip against Syracuse. It isn’t clear whether Conner will play this week against Miami.
He rushed for 75 yards on the day when Pitt honored its 11 seniors, and he could be forced into further duty Saturday.
“I was surprised James even got hurt,” he said. “I’m glad I did OK in the game because it’s all about the team.”
Senior day was special for Bennett — both of his sisters and parents attended — but he said it wasn’t sad.
“I’m not going to be crying,” he said. “We have another game to play.”
Bennett hopes to take a shot at the NFL, but he has a plan if pro football doesn’t work out. He said he wants to enter into nonprofit, community work with his sister, Tiffany.
“We are really trying to do God’s work,” he said.