An eighth-grader at Windermere Prep, Bennett recently played in a tournament on the Football University national team out of Tampa.
When Jackson Bennett put on his pads and took the field in his first practice, he knew this was a whole different league.
The practices that followed as a part of Bennett’s time on the Football University national team out of Tampa were grueling, as he worked on his game at the tight end position. It was a change of pace, considering Bennett has spent most of his time in football playing at running back and linebacker.
Finally, after days on the practice field, Bennett and his FBU team got to face some real competition. Once again, just as in that first practice, Bennett was taken by surprise.
“It was my first time playing on a national or regional team that competed against other teams like that,” said Bennett, 13, an eighth-grader at Windermere Prep. “As soon as the game started, the speed was a lot different than what I was used to at middle school, and I could tell that our team didn’t expect the speed and the talent from the other team when the game got started.”
During that game, held Saturday, Dec. 8, the team stumbled and lost 18-0 in the first round of the 36-team national tournament. Bennett and his team would rebound the next day with a 21-0 win.
Despite the early exit, Bennett impressed during his practices and games on the team, which is exactly the point of teams such as FBU — to train players and put them on the radars of recruiters. That’s how Bennett ended up on the FBU team, although it was partly by happenstance.
During Windermere Prep’s middle-school football game against Zephyrhills, a scout from FBU was looking at a specific player to bring onto the team. Instead, he was so impressed by Bennett that he asked him to join.
“It was a pretty good experience,” said Brooks Bennett, Jackson’s father. “Since that happened, I think they have a ninth-grade All-America team that the tryouts are in Orlando — the organizer from Tampa has already asked him to try out for that.”
That All-America team isn’t the only big thing happening for Bennett. The talented football player just finished up a big year on Windermere Prep’s middle-school football team.
When Bennett had the ball in his hands, the Lakers’ offense was devastating.
Through the season, Bennett racked up 1,181 total yards of offense (532 rushing, 173 receiving and 238 via kickoff/punt returns) and recorded 11 total touchdowns.
Bennett was just as dangerous on defense. As a linebacker — his preferred position — he picked apart opposing offenses with 92 total tackles (58 solo, 34 assisted and eight for loss), six sacks, one safety and two pass break-ups.
“I really like both running back and linebacker, but I see myself going more toward playing linebacker in the future,” Bennett said. “Right now, I feel like I would fit better into linebacker on defense, because I just feel like that’s what I like more.”
Although most eighth-graders looking to transition to varsity ball go in unprepared, Bennett has sharpened his teeth a little already for the Lakers’ football team.
“I’m most looking forward to just being able to play on the varsity team by itself, and (develop) the friendships and the brotherhood that I’ll make when I’m on the varsity team."
— Jackson Bennett
During the last varsity season, he made appearances in special teams play for the Lakers. It was an experience that, much like his time at FBU, was eye-opening.
“I was kind of a leader on my middle-school team, but when I get to varsity, I’m one of the smaller kids out there, and the youngest,” Bennett said. “The speed and the intensity is much higher, and you’re expected to do a lot more. Even the plays get more complicated, and … you have to be able to pay attention and get it down.”
And before the varsity football season starts next year, Bennett has another sport to prepare for — lacrosse.
Being a native son of Maryland, Bennett was born with a lacrosse stick in his hand. Although his love for the sport doesn’t match that of his love for football, he still displays significant talent as a lacrosse player.
Last year Bennett played in 17 games for the varsity team — scoring 22 goals and picking up nine assists. Bennett said he plans to continue playing lacrosse for the Lakers.
But it’s his future on the Lakers’ football team that has Bennett most excited about the coming years.
“I’m most looking forward to just being able to play on the varsity team by itself, and (develop) the friendships and the brotherhood that I’ll make when I’m on the varsity team,” Bennett said. “Hopefully one day, they can all help me get to a nice college and (help) make a future for me.”