As a youngster growing up in the District, Arrelious Benn had dreams of one day playing in the National Football League.
Last spring, those dreams came to fruition when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected the Dunbar High School product in the second round of the NFL Draft.
On Dec. 12 at FedEx Field, Benn returned home for the first time as a professional football player, helping lead the Buccaneers to a 17-16 victory over the Redskins.
“I’m just so happy right now that I had a chance to come home and play against the Redskins, a team that I grew up wanting to play for and I’m playing against them,” said Benn, who caught four passes for a game-high 122 yards. “I had my little brothers and my mother and family members and friends in the stands to go out there and see me play.”
In the second quarter, Benn caught a 64-yard bomb from quarterback Josh Freeman that set up Tampa Bay’s first points of the game, a 25-yard field goal from kicker Connor Barth.
Benn also showed his versatility during the game, blocking for Bucs’ rookie running back LeGarrette Blount and rushing for 17 yards on an end around play.
“I used to come here and watch football games so to be playing in FedEx Field and to have the type of performance that I did is really great,” said Benn.
Freeman described the former high school All-American and 2006 D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year as an “awesome guy.”
“He comes in and works hard,” said the second-year quarterback from Kansas State. “He understands the schemes and just to see him step up and coming back to D.C. and make those type of plays [was] huge for us. I love the guy.”
Although Tampa Bay barely missed the postseason with a 10-6 record, the Buccaneers are the NFL’s youngest team and boast a nucleus of fresh-faced standouts which bodes well for the NFC team next season.
At age 34, Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris is the league’s youngest helmsman. Morris has been a part of the Tampa Bay organization since 2002 but served a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006. That’s where Morris first learned about Benn’s dynamic skills on the gridiron.
“I was able to call him and recruit him as a high school man here and he chose Illinois over me,” said Morris, “but I’m not going to hold that against him, obviously.”
Since taking over the Dunbar football program in the mid 1990’s, Craig Jefferies has built the D.C. public school into a perennial title contender and sent countless players onto major colleges and a handful – like Benn – into the National Football League.
Benn is glad to be a part of Dunbar’s NFL pipeline that includes Joshua Cribbs (Cleveland Browns) along with brothers Vernon (San Francisco 49ers) and Vontae Davis (Miami Dolphins).
“Coach Craig [Jefferies], he runs a great program as far as not just football,” explained Benn, “it’s off the field stuff that keeps us busy and dealing with football and the type of things that puts us around it for those other things.”