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As he prepares for a fifth full season with the BC Lions, Mike Benson is busier than ever in his offseason home of Winnipeg. Along with serving as a strength and conditioning coach for a girls tackle football team, the long snapper is running three football academies that feature upwards of 30 young kids. A health and fitness buff at heart, he has also dabbled in helping a couple of other young athletes rehab from ACL injuries.
However, his newest project could have a major impact on the development of athletes in the Manitoba school curriculum. As more schools in his area add it to their physical education programs, Benson is on the verge of certifying at least 20 teachers in Olympic weightlifting. After he launches level 2 of the Acceleration Performance Weightlifting program, he will have certified 50-plus personal trainers and instructors at the end of next year.
“I’ve taught Olympic weightlifting seminars for a while now and last year was the first time I turned it into a certification course,” he said.
“It was difficult, but I thought it was easier than I believed it would be. There’s a two-part exam to it: written and then a physical portion where you have to go out and gain teaching hours. It’s one thing to study and write an exam and then another thing to actually apply it.”
Although his number one focus remains on winning that elusive first Grey Cup ring, Benson has plans to expand his certification programs beyond his home province whenever his football career comes to an end.
“As I come closer to the end of my career- which I hope to continue for a few more years- I’d like to take it on the road,” Benson explained.
“Ideally, if I was still coming back to BC (beyond 2019) I could do seminars in Regina and Calgary, maybe even one in Vancouver during the regular season. I could start getting my name as well as the program name out there. That’s the main thing. Being able to set yourself up and use football and all of the gifts it gives you the best as you can. The plan is to try and make it a full-blown thing after I retire.”
So far, he hasn’t shown any signs of winding down. Since his arrival in the den midway through the 2014 season, Benson has suited up in 81 straight games- and to think it almost never happened after he was all set to retire and become a Youth Parole Officer in Winnipeg before the Lions came calling in need of a long snapper.
Along with being a valuable foot soldier on special teams, his durability has come in handy in the development of kickers Richie Leone and Ty Long; two Americans who required a little knowledge of the Canadian game upon their respective arrivals. How much has his dedication to fitness had to do with his ability to stay in the lineup? It’s something many young players can follow.
“I may be turning 32 this year, but I still have the ability to run with a 23-year old and have just as good or better mobility than most 23-year olds,” Benson said.
“Being mentally tough, mentally prepared and mentally resilient is honestly, more than 50 per cent of your lifestyle and how you approach things. Physically, it’s definitely added several years to my career. I challenge any 23-year old to come to lift with me. As long as I keep that mentality going, I know I can still do it.”
And you know having a new coaching staff in place will force Benson and a handful of other veterans to approach 2019 training camp like they are still trying to prove themselves after all of these years. Head coach DeVone Claybrooks has brought Taylor Altilio with him from Calgary to run the special teams. Like Benson, Altilio himself serves as a personal trainer. It should be a match made in heaven.
“I’ve read up on coach Taylor a lot, but haven’t met him yet,” Benson said.
“He has a great background, as do all of the new coaches. They’re young; they’re energetic and will bring a new perspective to the team. Taylor is young like me but has an amazing resume having worked with one of the best special teams minds (Mark Killam) in Calgary. Along with what he learned there, he also played Canadian football for a long time. I’m excited for his energy, mindset and what he’s going to bring to our special teams. And of course, it will be nice to pick his brain on something other than football from time to time.”
The only thing that remains to be seen is what kicker Benson will be working with. Following Long’s release to pursue a deal with the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month, the kicking game could be one of the big question marks heading into camp, even after the squad added Tennessee State rookie Lane Clark earlier this week. Looking back, Benson couldn’t say enough good things about mentoring the likes of Leone and Long in his time here.
“Neither of them would be where they are without me,” Benson chuckled.
“Sarcasm aside, it was an honour to work with those guys and help them develop. I helped them with the Canadian game to the best of my abilities. My long snapping game has been good since I’ve been in this league, but those guys are naturally gifted in the kicking position. They’re two of the hardest working guys I know. Even Ty, who was only a placekicker and told he also had to punt in his first camp, for him to go onto lead the league in punting is a remarkable story. It’s great to see him get rewarded after putting in the time to get to where he needed to get.”
Whoever may emerge in the kicking game will be in good hands with a leader of Benson’s calibre.