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October 3, 2007
Benn changing games and more at Illinois
Regis would probably like to be watching a little Rejus right now.
Noted Notre Dame fan and TV personality Regis Philbin came close to seeing freshman receiver Arrelious Benn, who goes by the nickname "Rejus," suit up for the Irish. However, it wasn't meant to be.
Instead, Benn is part of the rebuilding process at Illinois, a process that got a boost from the Illini's 27-20 win over Penn State in Champaign on Saturday.
Benn played a major role in the upset, amassing 188 all-purpose yards and two TDs on nine touches in a signature win for third-year coach Ron Zook.
For his efforts, Rivals.com named Benn its National Freshman of the Week.
Benn is just one piece of the recruiting efforts Zook hopes will turn Illinois' fortunes. The Illini's victory over Penn State on Saturday was their first over a ranked opponent since 2001. With back-to-back wins over Indiana and the Nittany Lions, Illinois is 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1991.
Turning around Illinois is just what Benn had in mind when he signed with Zook out of Washington (D.C.) Dunbar. Benn, the No. 24 prospect in the class of 2007, landed at Illinois despite offers from Notre Dame, Florida State and Maryland.
"It was a big factor, a chance to come in and do good things at a program that's on the uprise," Benn said. "There was a chance to come and show my talent at this level."
And the name he signed on his National Letter of Intent to Illinois is the same one he uses when signing autographs – Arrelious, not Rejus.
Benn has been called Rejus since his childhood, but says he doesn't know the origin of the nickname. "I need to do a background check on that," Benn said.
Whether he's called Arrelious or Rejus - or used as a receiver, running back or kick returner - Benn can turn a game.
Take the win over Penn State, for example.
After Penn State took its only lead of the game on a 26-yard Kevin Kelly field goal in the first quarter, Benn responded with a 90-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.
In the second quarter, Benn added a 29-yard touchdown catch from Juice Williams. Benn finished the day with six receptions for 84 yards and two carries for 14.
"You can put the ball in his hands so many different ways," Zook said. "We're all searching to have as many weapons as we can so you can't double one guy. He presents another weapon that way. He can catch the ball as a receiver. He can run the ball out of the backfield. He can block. He's going to get better and better, and is a guy with a lot of God-given ability."
Benn will have a more difficult test this week when the Illini look to shock the conference with a 3-0 start and a win over No. 5 Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, Benn will face the league's top corner, Jack Ikegwuonu.
"I look for challenges like that," Benn said. "It challenges me to be great and show my talent. He's a great corner."
OTHER NOMINEES FOR FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK:
Cody Hawkins, Colorado
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Chris Smelley, South Carolina
Nicolas Grigsby, Arizona