By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on January 29, 2024.
Time has done little to erase Theo Benedet’s disappointment.
On Nov. 25, the towering University of British Columbia tackle capped a decorated college football career playing in the Vanier Cup. But there wouldn’t be a storybook ending as the Montreal Carabins got past the Thunderbirds 16-9 at Richardson Stadium in Kingston, Ont.
Two months later, the sting of that defeat still lingers.
“Oh, it’s still there,” Benedet said during a telephone interview. “It’s obviously tough still at this point to look back on the season and feel good about it given the way it ended.”
At least, though, there promises to be more football in Benedet’s future.
The native of North Vancouver, B.C., was ranked No. 2 last week on the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top-20 winter list for the ’24 draft. The six-foot-seven, 305-pound offensive lineman has also garnered attention south of the border, having played in the College Gridiron Showcase earlier this month in Texas after suiting up for the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl.
The NFL draft is slated for April 25-27 in Detroit, and even if Benedet isn’t selected he could sign with a club as an undrafted free agent. The date of the CFL draft hasn’t been released yet but it traditionally follows the NFL’s.
“To have interest on both sides of the border is perfect at this point,” Benedet said. “No matter what happens I know I’ll have a place to play football next year and that’s really all I want.”
The prospect of waiting over three months for clarity on where he’ll play next doesn’t bother Benedet, especially considering just how fast the last five years went by at UBC.
“It’s crazy,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s definitely surreal how far I’ve come.
“I came just hoping to play college football and get on the field and now all of this has happened. It’s insane, really.”
Benedet was a starter at UBC since his rookie campaign in 2019. Last year, he helped the Thunderbirds reach the Vanier Cup for the first time since 2015.
The 2023 season was another stellar one for Benedet. He captured the J.P. Metras Trophy as Canadian university’s football’s top down lineman for a second straight year, becoming the first offensive lineman to do so and just the third player overall.
And for a second straight year, Benedet secured All-Canadian honours. He also said the experience of playing in the two American college all-star contests really helped him elevate his game.
“They’ve been huge for me,” he said. “When I went to the Shrine game last year, it was knowing I was almost certainly going to come back to school so it was a chance to be around professional coaches and find places where I could improve.
“I came back this year understanding how to play without the yard (between offensive/defensive line in Canada), how to get out of my stance and use my hands better. And then at the Gridiron Showcase, I think I implemented a lot of those things and did really well and so to be able to show I could do well against Americans has helped me a lot.”
Benedet will audition for pro scouts at UBC’s pro day sometime in March. He’s been able to concentrate fully on training after having put the finishing touches on his history degree, meaning he’ll be able to graduate in May.
“I planned it that way so I’d be able to focus on training and not also have to worry about school,” he said. “And now, my mom is happy because I finished my degree.”
While the prospect of playing pro football is enticing, Benedet has bittersweet emotions about leaving UBC.
“To have it end without a championship is tough,” he said. “But I look back at least fondly on the bonds I created with teammates there and what we were able to accomplish.”
He added playing for Thunderbirds head coach Blake Nill has prepared him well for whatever lies ahead.
“Coach Nill has instilled so much in me about understanding the importance of hard work,” Benedet said. “He always talks about the integrity of the game, how you can’t cheat it and that at the end of the day the truth will catch up to you if you’re not working hard.
“Obviously I’ve learned so much football stuff regarding technique but in the long-term that’s what I’ll take with me. For everything he’s done for me, it would’ve been nice to pay him back with (Vanier Cup championship) but unfortunately just wasn’t meant to be.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.