Benfield threat to 'Lander all-time rushing record


Photo by Rick Harris
Dakota Benfield goes for a touchdown against North Greene last week.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
When you think of the great running backs to come through Cloudland High School, the extensive list goes on and on.
For the past three seasons, there has been a player slowly climb the charts above the Vince Hitechews and the Randy Birchfields.
As he creeps in on the elusive 5,300-yard career mark set by Tim Clipse, two-time All-Stater Dakota Benfield is just glad to be a Highlander.
Some players have personal goals and have things they want the team to achieve. Not many people actually see the leadership role they have. Dakota is one of those players on and off the field.
"He's a leader," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "He's very dependable and he's a kid you can count on and know what he'll give you day in and day out. He works hard and expects that out of himself and the other kids."
"We've played four games and I hope we're just a third of the way through," said Benfield. "I'd like to be undefeated at the end of the 15th game, but we've got to take it one week at a time."
Like many of the other seniors on this team, Dakota wants to touch that gold football more than any individual award to come his way.
One of the major obstacles for the team is getting the private school monkey off their back.
"I think we're a lot more focused," he said. "We lost to Ezell-Harding in the state championship game and lost to Boyd-Buchanan last year. It woke a lot of us up."
"They're bigger and faster and they have a quicker line," he said. "We've worked real hard and our line's worked hard. I think we'll match up a lot better than in the past."
A former WCYB-TV 5 Co-MVP, Benfield made a name for himself on the field during his sophomore campaign as he ran rampant during the latter part of the state semifinalist squad with close to 1,700 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Last season, Benfield continued his pace, rushing over 1,500 yards with 140 points of total offense. But the work wasn't finished for the senior, as he spent effort-filled time in the weight room working on making his game better.
"I feel like I've developed quite a bit and its all due to hard work," added Dakota. "We have a good summer program here. There's a lot of people lifting three and even five days a week. That reflects on our past four seasons."
Thus far in the season, Benfield has gained 572 yards on 63 carries (9.1 yards per carry) with eight touchdowns and seven conversions. He also has 177 yards receiving on ten grabs with a score.
Dakota credits the line for each and every yard he's gained.
"If it wasn't for the line, then me and (Cloudland quarterback Mark) Byrd wouldn't get a yard," he said. "With their help, it's easier to break tackles than to break a leg."
"We've all got a real close group. Most of us have played together since flag and it's like a big family. We'd do anything for any of the others on the team."
One big thing that stands out about the Cloudland football team is the proud support of their fans. Benfield's family have been very supportive of their son's success.
"My family, not just immediate, comes to all of my games and sit in one big section," Dakota said. "I don't think they've missed one of my games and I really appreciate it."
There are a lot of things that stand out for Benfield of his time at Cloudland.
Said Benfield: "I'll never forget my freshman season when we beat Happy Valley 57-7, the Midway game where I rushed for 300 yards, and I won't forget the feeling after the fourth round of the playoffs my sophomore year when we knew we were going to the state."
He also credits Mike Lunsford and the coaching staff at Cloudland, having seen a few changes over a four-year period.
"Every year it seems we pick some (coaches) up and lose some, but I think we have one of the best staffs in Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina."
The senior has plans to attend college and play football. He has gotten a lot of looks from schools and should get the chance to follow his dream.
"He's been a phenomenal football player," Lunsford said. "He loves the game in every aspect, likes to practice and play. When you have a kid like that it makes practice and games more fun."
Benfield embodies three solid aspects of a football player, he's tough, he's mentally prepared and he's someone his team can rely on.
He will be tested to his fullest in tonight's Homecoming battle against Cherokee and will need a big game to help Cloudland pull out a possible victory.
Who knows what will happen between now and the end of the season, but one thing's for certain, that number 27 jersey better enjoy its time on the football field - because once Dakota Benfield hangs it up, it may never see action again.