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Sometimes, things do indeed happen for a reason. As the ink continues to dry on his two-year contract extension, Mike Benson can’t help but think back to late August of 2014. The special teams ace had had just been released by the Toronto Argonauts, and, seeing light at the end of his football tunnel, he was set to move back to his hometown of Winnipeg to become a Youth Parole Officer. That’s when the Lions, in need of a new long snapper, came calling.
“You can only hang on to that football dream for so long before you have to start worrying about yourself,” Benson recalled Thursday before a busy afternoon of training clients at Pro Player U, his Winnipeg-based fitness company.
“I was going to start my new job September 1st. As luck would have it, August 28th came along and the Lions called me up. It was during their bye week. That gave me a new life. All of a sudden, here I am heading into my fourth full season with BC. It’s a whole new life.”
It is safe to say the organization made the right call. Along with playing a big role in the development of kickers Richie Leone and Ty Long, Benson has become a dependable force playing one of the most important, and perhaps under-appreciated, positions on the special teams unit. He has also established himself as one of the more recognizable players to fans, the famous Stadium Cribs videos with Leone serving as a prime example. All of those elements factored in his decision to sign on through 2019.
“It’s an all-time high,” Benson said about his excitement level.
“Going to free agency wasn’t even a thought. I’ve been in BC for three-and -a -half seasons, and I love it. I’m pretty pumped and I’m happy to see Wally back as coach. That is going to be great for us this year. I was pumped to see Ed Hervey come in, as GM. Everyone knows what he did in Edmonton, turning around the team and making them a Grey Cup champion in no time. I’m excited to see what he does in free agency and what else he brings to the table.”
Another guy Benson can’t wait to work for is Jeff Reinebold. From a young age, he knew just how energetic his new special teams coach could be.
“Jeff was the head coach in Winnipeg when I was a little kid,” Benson said.
“I remember going to Bomber games and seeing him ride out on a motorcycle. I knew right there how awesome he was. The way he conducts himself with such energy is going to be amazing for our special teams. He got the fans excited in Winnipeg, that’s for sure. He’s a special teams guru and will make things good for us because we have some athletes at every position.”
Being a long snapper doesn’t come with a whole lot of recognition. There aren’t many flashy endorsement deals, daily interview requests or CFL on TSN broadcast promos. In addition, very few kids imitate them in the schoolyard or grow up playing the position. Sometimes though, if you’re lucky, you can take advantage of a special teams turnover and score a touchdown like Benson did against the Eskimos on October 21st of last season. Now he can’t wait for number two.
“I’ve got a touchdown dance in store for when the timing is right. I wasn’t expecting to score one, so I wasn’t prepared the first time,” he exclaimed.
Benson, a linebacker in high school, recalls the moment his long snapping career began.
“I started long snapping in grade ten at St. Paul High School. Our long snapper got hurt and they were basically like ‘who can throw a ball between their legs?’” Benson chuckled.
“I thought it seemed easy enough and gave it a shot. I tossed the ball 15 yards deep, between my legs, right into the guy’s hip and then that’s what I did throughout the rest of high school.”
From there it was off to Acadia on a scholarship to play both linebacker and special teams. He then landed with the Eskimos as a non-drafted free agent in 2012, appearing in just three games over two seasons before being scooped up by Toronto in 2014. It was quite the rollercoaster experience before that August phone call that changed his life. When this new contract ends, he will have played almost six full seasons on the west coast.
“I never thought in a million years I would be living in such a beautiful province and playing in front of great fans. I have been able to play with such amazing guys my whole time here. You build special bonds beyond the team.”