Wisconsin Football: Freshman Defensive Tackle Keeanu Benton

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 14: Olive Sagapolu #99 of the Wisconsin Badgers tackles Terry Wright #9 of the Purdue Boilermakers in the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 14: Olive Sagapolu #99 of the Wisconsin Badgers tackles Terry Wright #9 of the Purdue Boilermakers in the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Keeanu Benton is the subject of this edition of Freshman Focus, Badger of Honor’s series helping Wisconsin football fans get to know the incoming talent.

Recruiting profile

Position: Defensive Tackle

Hometown: Janesville, WI

Rankings: 3-star (No. 85 DT, No. 1238 overall)

Other offers: Iowa and Western Illinois

One of the more under the radar recruits in Wisconsin’s 2020 class, Benton committed to the Badgers in May 2018 over just two other offers from Iowa and Western Illinois. However, with his rare blend of size and athleticism (more on that later), you have to think that he could have  expanded his recruitment quite a bit had he chose to keep it open a few months longer and gain more exposure by attending some of the college camps and recruiting events that are commonplace throughout the summer.

Benton ended his high school football career at Janesville Craig with a big senior year that also could have netted him more offers had he not been committed to Wisconsin, netting 75 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery on his way to being named first-team all-state by the Associated Press. He begins his career in Madison as part of an exciting trio of incoming freshman defensive linemen that also includes Rodas Johnson and Gio Paez.

What to expect

Though he will start out at nose tackle for the Badgers this season, like his classmates Paez and Johnson, Benton has the versatility play either the nose or defensive end positions in Jim Leonhard’s 3-4 defense. This should give him a great shot to get on the field sooner rather than later in his college career.

That being said, it certainly appears as though Benton possesses the most potential both now and in the long term in the middle of the defense at nose tackle.

The Wisconsin staff was drawn to him during the recruiting process because of the exciting blend of physical tools that he brings to the table. Benton was one of the top wrestlers in the state throughout high school, qualifying for the state championships twice and finishing as the Division 1 runner-up as a junior after posting a 48-2 record as a 6’4, 290-pounder. The type of strength, agility, and athleticism necessary to excel on the wrestling mat has proven time and time again to translate well to playing in the trenches on the gridiron.

Benton’s technique on the defensive line is a bit raw and will need some coaching up from defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield, but it’s clear he possesses all the physical traits necessary to serve as Wisconsin’s anchor at nose tackle down the road should the staff choose the keep him there throughout his time as a Badger. In terms of those tools, it’s easy to see a bit of a resemblance to former Badger and current Green Bay Packer Olive Sagapolu, another high-level athlete at that position who was the unsung hero on a few of the best defenses in the history of the program during his career.

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If Benton can turn in anywhere close to the type of career that Sagapolu had, it’s safe to say the staff and fan base would be ecstatic.  That being said, though he has a very long way to go in his development and his biggest contributions to the program will almost certainly come in the long term, Benton is going to have a fighter’s chance at seeing some significant early playing time for the Badgers right away this season.

Bryson Williams has that starting spot at nose tackle locked down after impressing as a reserve behind Sagapolu last season, but the backup spot behind him is completely up for grabs. Gunnar Roberge is probably the favorite at the moment, but Benton and Paez are going to have the opportunity to push him throughout fall camp. I initially wasn’t sure if any of the freshmen defensive linemen would be ready to see big-time snaps right away this season, but those two guys look like they’re at least physically ready to compete immediately after gaining major weight in the offseason (315 and 305 pounds, respectively). Now, it’s just a question of if they can make the necessary progress mentally.

Even if we don’t see him on the field at all this year as a true freshman, you can’t help but get excited at the thought of what Benton could become by the time his Badger career is over. He may be one of the lowest-rated players in Wisconsin’s 2019 class according to the scouting services, but don’t be surprised if he’s near the top of the list in a re-ranking of the group a few years down the line.

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All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com