SAN ANTONIO - Of the nearly 100 players invited to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl this season, there's one who will take a double-dose of extra pride in wearing the black and gold: four-star defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
Both of Bennett's parents are graduates of West Point. Though neither went active after they graduated, Bennett grew up in a house steeped in military tradition and values, which have helped mold him into one of the best defensive linemen in the country and a top-notch individual.
"They took what they learned from the Army and they applied it to how they raised us, so that's mostly what I learned: discipline and respect," Bennett said. "I think it helped me a lot, just because it gave me structure, and helped me see what's most important, to make sure I don't get a big head or anything like that, but just kind of taking things how they are and being respectful to everybody."
Bennett's head is just about the only thing about him that's not super-sized. The 6-foot-3, 275-pounder owns a 28-inch vertical leap and, though he's played mainly offensive line, loves to cut it loose on defense.
"I like the defensive side a lot better, just because it's a lot less controlled," he said. "You just go out there and use whatever you can to get to their quarterback, get to the ball-carrier, and that's what I like the most. With offense, I like it just because I'm good at it, but it just felt like it was too controlled."
But just about everything else about Bennett off the field has the measured precision of a military march, from his articulate speech to the regimented way he goes about his schooling.
"Before I got any scholarships, that was No. 1," Bennett said. "My parents said, I remember, my sophomore year, I got like a B or two on my report card, and they said, 'If you keep messing up, then you're not going to be able to play football.' They're just really strict about it, but it's good because it just makes me realize that the academics are so important, because you can get hurt at any time in football, and the academics will carry you a lot farther."
And even though Bennett isn't keen on following in his parents' footsteps and going to West Point, he'll do just fine for himself playing for Jim Tressel and the Ohio State Buckeyes. In fact, he was on his official visit to Columbus during this year's Army-Navy game, a fact he bashfully admits.
"They brought us up loving Army and everything, but I never really felt like that was my path," Bennett says.
Instead, Bennett will pursue the art of healing at Ohio State, surely a goal worthy of his four-star upbringing.
"I'm going to try and go pre-med. Aim big if you're getting it for free," Bennett said. "I was trying to think of what I was going to be interested in, and medicine is the only thing that I could think of. If that changes, that changes, but right now, all I can think of that I'm interested in, that I have a passion for, is medicine."
Bennett won't have to psych himself up too much for Saturday's game; he'll have extra reason to stand out for the East with the entire section full of fatigues he'll be playing in front of.
"I think that will be really cool, because of the fact that they're so into the game, and they're the ones that we should all be thanking, and they're just really excited for what I'm going to be doing and what my teammates will be doing. I think that's just going to be really exciting to see. They're just regular guys and girls, but they go out and we should be thanking them and cheering them on all the time."
But outside of that sea of olive drab, there will be two faces in particular Bennett will be looking to for inspiration.
"Obviously, it means a lot, because my parents really like it, too," Bennett said of being chosen to play in the game. "I really like this game, because it just means something. It's not just, 'Look at who I am.' You're doing something for other people, and I really like what it represents. And, with their background, they liked it, too, so they were all for it."