SKOWHEGAN — In last Friday night’s win over Hampden Academy, Skowhegan Area High School linebacker Gus Benson had a game most high school linebackers could call the best of the season. Benson had 18 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. Yet it was Benson’s lowest tackle total of the season.

“We joked with him that he had an off game Friday night because he only had 18,” Skowhegan head coach Matt Friedman said.

Through three games, Benson has established himself as one of the top defensive players in the Pine Tree Conference Class B division. A 5-foot-10, 195 pound tackling machine, Benson has 58 tackles for the Indians, to go with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception, and a blocked extra point.

“I like to hit. I like contact, and I just like to make big plays,” Benson, who also plays guard on offense, said.

In Skowhegan’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment (four linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs), Benson’s job is to keep runners from getting to the edge.

“We try to spill everything off the edges. That’s where Gus comes in, because he’s great at filling in the middle, and he’s also quick enough to scrape to the edge to make the plays on the edge,” Friedman said. “He’s always been a very good linebacker, good at reading his keys and scraping and filling. What he did this past year was put on about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle, and really worked hard in the weight room to get himself ready for his senior year.”

“I’ve definitely gotten a lot bigger this year, and I focused on my reads and just flowing to the football. I think 95 percent of it is reaction, like muscle memory,” Benson, a second team all-PTC selection last season, said. “Like Coach (Friedman) says, we clean up the trash. Anything that gets through, it’s our job to get them. I look at what the guards do, and the backfield. Watch the guards and they’ll take you to the football… It’s fast. You don’t even think about it. It just happens.”

The first two years of Benson’s high school football career were riddled with injuries. Before his freshman year was over, Benson has surgery on each knee. As a sophomore, Benson made a spot start at center, playing the offensive line for the first time, in a game against Lawrence. He broke his left collarbone.

“It took me eight plays before I realized there was a huge bump there,” Benson said, touching his collarbone where it had broken.

Benson’s perseverance through his injuries made an impression on his teammates and his coaches. To be a Skowhegan football captain, a player must fill out an application with Friedman in the spring. Those who applied are then watched throughout the offseason and preseason practices, then the players and coaching staff vote. Before this season and last, Benson was voted a captain unanimously.

“That’s the beauty of having him as a senior leader. We’ve got some good younger linebackers, and we make sure they watch Gus on film and how he practices,” Friedman said.

Watching Benson on film is a consistent highlight reel, Friedman said. Benson’s 19 tackles in Skowhegan’s season opening win at Mt. Ararat included a play in which the Eagles faked a fullback dive up the middle. Benson saw that the fullback didn’t have the ball, and made it to the outside to tackle the quarterback before he could round the corner. Against Messalonskee in week two, Benson made 21 tackles, had an interception, and blocked an extra point.

Last week against Hampden, Benson consistently shed a block from the Broncos’ Nick Haggan, an all-conference offensive tackle last season, to hit the runner in the hole at the line of scrimmage.

“Our film is filled with those,” Friedman said. “He’s just got a great nose for the ball.”

Benson’s first football priority is helping Skowhegan make it back to the playoffs. After that, he’ll think about whether or not football is in his future.

“I haven’t really gotten that far. I need to see what schools interest me academically, then make a decision regarding football,” Benson said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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