Starting Over: Rebuilding after the loss of Benny Cunningham
It was 1st and 10 at the FIU 12 yard-line.
Benny Cunningham ran the ball off-tackle and was hit out of bounds at the seven yard-line by FIU defender, Jordan Hunt. The training staff rushed over to him after he didn’t get up. It was his left knee, and this would be the last game Benny Cunningham would ever play as a Blue Raider.
“It’s tough any time you lose a guy like that who’s an emotional leader, as well as a player on the team,” said quarterback Logan Kilgore on Cunningham’s injury. “You know, young guys have to step up, and, as far as my job, I’ve got to keep the ship going forward and make sure that everyone stays focused.”
Monday morning, an MRI scan revealed that Cunningham had sustained serious injury to the patella tendon that would require surgery. This is a hard loss for the Blue Raiders as Cunningham led the team with 600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, despite only playing in five games this season.
“Benny was a senior,” Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “He’d been in a lot of games. He was a great leader for us. He practiced extremely hard every day, whether we were in full pads or shorts. He was passionate about the game. He loved it; he studied it. He was just a great team player, very unselfish. He was a great role model for Jordan [Parker] and Jeremiah [Bryson], the younger backs. As good as he was as a player, he was that much better as a leader.”
However, Stockstill said that despite Cunningham’s injury, the offense will not change.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in our offensive guys, so it’s not going to change or anything,” Stockstill said. “We’re halfway through the season with six weeks left; you’re not going to change what you’re doing schematically just because you lost one guy to injury. But, no, it’s a big loss to us. Losing in Benny is a big loss, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in the offense and these guys behind him. Like I told the team, everybody’s got to step up. Everybody’s got to play a little bit better now.”
The torch has now been passed. Junior Drayton Calhoun and true-freshman Jordan Parker will shoulder much more of the workload, and both received their first collegiate touches this season.
Jordan Parker, a freshman out of Suwanee, Ga., has already rushed for over 200 yards this season, including a 117 yard performance against rival FAU earlier this season.
Calhoun originally committed to LSU in February 2008. Redshirted his freshman year, he transferred to MTSU in 2011. After sitting out a year due to NCAA sanctions, Calhoun worked his way into the depth chart. Over the course of the first six games, Calhoun has rushed for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
“We all are unique in our own ways, but I think I have a little bit more speed than the rest of them,” Calhoun said.
Running backs coach Brent Brock echoed a similar sentiment about his talented group of young backs.
“Well, I think they all bring something different,” Brock said. “We went into the season with them for them to have to work and bring something different just in case something like this happened. That’s why you always work. You know you have a guy like Benny [Cunningham] who’s very special. You don’t ever want to lose a guy like that, but, at the same time, we’ve been working since camp to develop the depth and attitude we needed, so that if something like this happened, whether it was Benny or anybody else, we could just pick up the slack and move on.”