Son of former NFL star forging his own path
Rookie pass rusher Bennett aims to seize opportunity and crack Alouettes' roster
Given the family lineage, it's surprising that Kivon Bennett grew up hoping to be an NBA player. But then his body took over and, at 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds, it became apparent he was destined to play football.
“My body kind of ended up choosing football for me,” Bennett, a rookie defensive end attempting to crack the Alouettes roster, said Thursday as the team concluded training camp at Stade Diablos in Trois-rivières. “For the most part, I always knew I was going to be an athlete.”
Bennett's father Cornelius was one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. Selected second overall in 1987 by Indianapolis, but best remembered for the years he spent with Buffalo, he made five Pro Bowl appearances, was twice named the AFC defensive player of the year, and played in five Super Bowls during his 14-year career. He retired in 2000 having produced 71.5 quarterback sacks, 31 forced fumbles and seven interceptions.
His son, 23, doesn't appear headed for NFL greatness. He didn't secure a contract with the Atlanta Falcons after attending their recent rookie mini-camp. That delayed Bennett's arrival until last weekend, meaning he missed Montreal's first exhibition game at Ottawa.
That also means Bennett had to leave everything on the field Friday night when the Als hosted Hamilton in their final exhibition match, knowing final cuts are coming on Saturday.
As much as this last tune-up revolved around veteran players eradicating rust built up over the winter, it was one last opportunity for rookies, like Bennett, to plant a seed in the coaches' minds. Head coach Jason Maas said every player who was healthy and dressed would get on the field.
“I wouldn't call it their last chance,” defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe said. “It's an opportunity to compete, an opportunity to make the football team. All these guys are here because of their ability. Now we get a chance to see what they can do on the field.
“I won't talk about (Bennett's chances of) making the team. I just think the learning curve's a bit steeper when you come to camp later.”
Bennett, who was raised in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was rated a four-star recruit coming out of high school. He spent four years at Tennessee before transferring to Arkansas State in 2021. In 12 games there, he registered a team-leading eight sacks. He possesses speed along with an ability to get off the edge and has a good change of direction.
While he admitted Friday's game was going to be the most important of his career to this point, Bennett denied feeling added pressure.
“I'm excited to get out there, get after it and play fast,” he said. “I have another opportunity to play ball. At the end of the day, football is football. I'm going to get after it every play, run around, fly around and just be physical. Defence is all about being fast and physical.
“I want to prove to myself that I belong out here. I know that I do.”
Another potential rookie who was looking to turn heads is defensive tackle Israel Antwine. At 6-foot-3 and 309 pounds, he's considered an excellent run stopper who will draw regular double teams. He played at Colorado as a freshman before transferring to Oklahoma State, where he became a four-year starter.
Antwine was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars coming out of college and added to their practice roster before his midseason release.
“The game means a lot to me. It means everything,” the soft-spoken Antwine said. “Especially coming from the States. I want to show everybody how effective I am, not just stuffing blocks, but getting to the backfield, getting to the quarterback and showing, even though I'm a defensive lineman who weighs over 300, that I still have speed and explosion.”
Thorpe said a motivational speech won't be required to light a fire under his defensive rookies.
“Now it's really up to them,” he said. “You don't have to say anything.”
I'm going to get after it every play, run around, fly around and just be physical. Defence is all about being fast and physical.