Clinton DeSouza admits it now: When Kyiev Bennermon made the Spackenkill High School football team as a sophomore, the coach thought he could “have an impact,” but didn’t foresee the defensive tackle becoming a major Division I college recruit.
Funny, because even as Bennermon was on the sideline of a Boston College football scrimmage on Saturday, being wooed as a major Division I college recruit, the Eagles coaching staff didn’t know just how athletic he was.
That is, until an errant pass went humming toward the sideline, ticketed for the side of DeSouza’s head.
“I had my hands in my pockets at the time,” Bennermon said, “but I pulled them out fast, reached over and caught the ball just in time before it hit coach in the face.”
The Spackenkill coach was relieved. The Boston College coaches were in awe. They hadn’t known the 6-foot-4, 275-pound junior had such reflexes and quick hands.
And few knew that Spackenkill, a small school with a small football program, would produce a prospect worthy of suitors from college football’s power conferences. Those opportunities seldom are afforded to kids in the Hudson Valley.
But Bennermon made it a reality on Wednesday evening, announcing his verbal commitment to Boston College.
“There’s no better feeling,” the Poughkeepsie native said. “This is a really exciting time for me and my family, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Bennermon joins a short list of locals who have made it onto the rosters of prominent Division I football programs in recent years. Millbrook’s Allan Rappleyea, an offensive tackle who attends Milton Academy in Massachusetts, signed a National Letter of Intent in February to play football at Wake Forest, a team Boston College will face next season. Others include John Jay graduate Bobby Henderson, who completed his senior season as a walk-on fullback at Michigan this past winter, and Arlington graduate Alex Starzyk, who will be a senior punter at Temple in the fall.
“I know it’s rare for people from around here,” Bennermon said. “That’s extra motivation to succeed. This is a big opportunity, so I don’t wanna let the area down.”
His player’s early commitment, DeSouza said, has brought excitement to the team and is a “relief” — emotionally and financially — for Bennermon’s family.
“I’m still kind of amazed that this is happening,” the coach said, “but I’m extremely happy and proud of him.”
Breaking out as a junior
Bennermon, 17, hadn’t played football in five years before joining Spackenkill’s varsity team as a sophomore. He had pushed that sport aside and focused on basketball. Spackenkill, in Class B, doesn’t have a junior varsity football program and ninth grade is the cutoff for its modified team. So Bennermon made varsity by default.
“In training camps, he was our most physically dominant player,” DeSouza said. “He was still raw as a sophomore, though. But everything clicked in his junior year. That’s when the assistant coaches and I were like, ‘This kid could be something special.’”
Bennermon earned Journal All-Star honors in the fall after posting 55 tackles, four sacks and two blocked kicks, helping lead the Spartans to the Section 9 quarterfinals. The lineman consistently pushed the pocket and stuffed the run, despite facing consistent double teams. His goal-line tackle against James I. O’Neill in October — knifing through pulling offensive linemen to stop a run off left tackle — snuffed a 2-point conversion attempt as time expired, giving Spackenkill a stunning 42-41 win.
He also contributed to Spackenkill’s offense. Not as a lineman, or even a tight end, but a slot receiver. Bennermon had 21 receptions for 352 yards and two touchdowns, and that included several spectacular and acrobatic catches. After convincing DeSouza in the off-season that he could catch, the big man proved capable of running post routes, slants, curls and comebacks.
Bennermon also helped the basketball team win a Section 9 Class B championship earlier this month, and is a member of the outdoor track and field team in the spring.
“It’s the athleticism for his size that makes him so attractive for colleges,” DeSouza said. “I think the fact that he’s a basketball player and a receiver helps. He’s got great footwork and hands, and he’s a competitor.”
The college offers soon poured in, Bennermon said, and Boston College reached out in December. He visited the campus twice — after having never been to Massachusetts — and was soon smitten.
“Academically, it’s a great school,” he said. “And the way they treated me there was great.”
He was also impressed by the knowledge of Eagles head coach Steve Addazio and the intensity with which the team scrimmaged.
“It’s such a competitive atmosphere and everyone wants to succeed, so they go 100 miles per hour, even in practice,” Bennermon said. “That matches my style.”
Boston College, known for its academic acclaim, was ranked the 31st best school in the country this year by U.S. News & World Report. The football program, which competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has produced several NFL standouts, including Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
“I want to major in business and they have one of the better business schools in the country,” Bennermon said. “If football doesn’t work out, I’ll have that.”
With another season of high school football upcoming, Bennermon knows he will be a focus of opposing teams — more than ever. Still, he expects much more of himself.
“I can be a way better pass-rusher than I showed last year,” he said. “I was disappointed in the number of sacks. I think I can get 10 or more next season.”
Him heading to Boston College is a boon for Spackenkill football and the Hudson Valley, DeSouza said.
“It ups the ante and brings some more eyes to the area,” he said. “We don’t get as much attention because we’re not Long Island or New York City, but we’ve got some good football up here and hopefully it’s starting to get noticed. It’s a blessing.”
As was Bennermon catching that ball on the sideline.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4