High School Football

Rocky Mountain grad signs with rising college football power after improving grades

Recruiting highlights: Florida Atlantic signee Zack Bennett

Offensive lineman Zack Bennett has signed a letter of intent with Florida Atlantic as part of National Signing Day. The Rocky Mountain High grad spent two years at Arizona Western before signing with FAU.
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Offensive lineman Zack Bennett has signed a letter of intent with Florida Atlantic as part of National Signing Day. The Rocky Mountain High grad spent two years at Arizona Western before signing with FAU.

Zack Bennett drew recruiters from some of the nation’s top college football programs to Rocky Mountain High two years ago, earning offers from Nebraska and Iowa. But then they got a look at his transcript.

With a 1.8 GPA, he didn’t qualify for a Division I scholarship. So he instead spent the past two years at Arizona Western College, where he hit the books and anchored the offensive line for a pair of national junior college runner-up teams.

The route paid off as Bennett boosted his GPA to 3.1, allowing him to sign a full-ride scholarship with Florida Atlantic on Wednesday as part of National Signing Day.

“I was humbled by the experience, for sure,” the 6-foot-3, 295-pound center said. “I think I’m a different person because of it, and I think it was a good thing for me to go through.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would go to (junior college) even if I had the grades.”

See the full Treasure Valley high school signing list

Bennett heads to Florida Atlantic with a chance for immediate playing time. The reigning Conference USA champion graduated its starting center and both of its starting guards after an 11-1 season.

Bennett will have three years to use his remaining two seasons of eligibility.

“He’s a smart, savvy football player that gets after it,” Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick told the Sun-Sentinel. “He’s not afraid to take on the biggest player. He’s got that nasty to him. You always want that nastiness.”

Bennett originally verbally committed to Idaho State in June, telling the Statesman that he’d remain committed to his home state Bengals “unless I get a dream offer.”

But he reopened his recruitment after Idaho State fired Dorian Keller as its offensive line coach in December. Keller will be reassigned within Idaho State until he finds another job or his contract expires in June, Idaho State Athletic Director Jeff Tingey told the Idaho State Journal.

Bennett said he chose Florida Atlantic over offers from Kansas and UTEP, citing the up-and-coming program that Lane Kiffin built in a single season. After three straight 3-9 seasons, Kiffin led the Owls to their first 11-win season at the FBS level, including a 50-3 win over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Florida Atlantic heads into 2018 on a 10-game winning streak, the second longest in FBS behind Central Florida (13). USA Today ranked the Owls No. 21 in its way-too-early Top 25 for 2018. Boise State is the only other Group of Five team, at No. 14.

“There’s a lot of good things going on with their program,” Bennett said. “They have a shot to be in the national spotlight, and I think I have a good opportunity to play there right away.”

Kiffin has drawn a national spotlight to Florida Atlantic with not only wins, but also his social media antics, using his Twitter account to troll his former employers at Alabama and Tennessee. Bennett said he’s enjoyed Kiffin’s online presence, but he’s more drawn to the success on the field and to Kiffin’s NFL ties.

“It’s funny. I think all his recruits get a little bit of a kick out of it,” Bennett said. “But at the same time, he’s more of a business guy. When we went on our visit, you could tell how much he is about business and how successful he wants that program to be.”

Former Rocky Mountain football coach Scott Criner said he’s talked with Bennett more than any of his former players over the past two years. Criner grew emotional describing how far Bennett has come from his freshman season at Rocky Mountain to nearing a college degree. Bennett said he’ll finish his associate’s degree at Arizona Western before enrolling at Florida Atlantic.

“I’ve always believed you don’t throw kids away,” Criner said. “If I can do something to help them, I’ll help them. This kid made me see it is possible.

“It might be baby steps, but he’s inching closer to that final goal. I hope he understands that that’s getting that degree — getting that degree and becoming a contributing guy to society.”

Bennett knows the junior college route comes with its own stigma. He said nearly everyone on his team enrolled at Arizona Western because of troubles in the classroom or off the field.

But he said he’d recommend going to a junior college to anyone having academic difficulty or who believes recruiters overlooked them in high school.

“If you do have bad grades, juco is the way to go because they can give you another opportunity,” Bennett said. “You get a clean slate. … It gave me a whole new aspect on life, having a second chance.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama

Idaho’s high school football class of 2018

Twenty Idaho high school seniors or recent graduates have signed a Division I football scholarship as part of the 2018 recruiting class, including those who signed during the early period in December.

FBS

Name

HS

Pos.

College

Zack Bennett

Rocky Mtn. (2016)

OL

Florida Atlantic

Keeghan Freeborn

Rocky Mtn.

NT

Boise St.

Noah Gunn

Coeur d’Alene

OL

Air Force

Brandon Kipper

Columbia (2017)

OL

Oregon St.

Carter Kuehl

Rocky Mtn.

RB

Air Force

Khalil Oliver

Rocky Mtn. (2014)

DB

Missouri

Scott Matlock

Homedale

DE

Boise St.

Cole Ramseyer

Coeur d’Alene

TE

Boise St.

Tommy Togiai

Highland

DL

Ohio St.

Colson Yankoff

Coeur d’Alene

QB

Washington

FCS

Name

HS

Pos.

College

George Barrera

Borah

OL

Weber St.

Ross Chadderdon

Coeur d’Alene

LB

Idaho

Garrett Crane

Highland

DL

Idaho St.

Michael Davis

Columbia

TE

Idaho St.

Khalil Forehand

Bishop Kelly

ATH

Idaho

Sam Funkhouser

Gooding

LB

Idaho St.

DeMonte Horton

Skyview

WR

Idaho St.

Ruger Jennings

Gooding

LB

Idaho St.

Jacob Johnson

Timberline

K

S. Utah

Jacob Pinkney

Timberline

DE

Idaho St.

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