How far is it from Hannibal to Centralia?
According to Earl Bennett, it’s an hour and 20 minutes. He would know, considering the football coach of the West Squad has been driving to and from America’s Hometown every day this week in preparation for Friday’s Do or Die Bowl at Porter Stadium.
“It certainly is a long commute,” said Bennett. “The way back kind of gives me a chance to get ready for the next day.”
The trip home has seemed shorter because of how well practices have gone.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with this group of kids,” said Bennett, who is coaching in the Do or Die Bowl for the first time. “There is certainly a lot of talent and a lot of kids who are going on to play at the next level, or kids who could have gone on and played at the next level.”
One of Bennett’s biggest concerns as he made the initial drive to Hannibal was how well a group of talented athletes would come together as a team.
“In basically three days of practice you have to put 45 kids together and meld that into a team,” he said. “I thought that would be a real challenge, but it really hasn’t been because the kids we have are such great kids.”
Probably the team’s strength is the talent Bennett has assembled on the lines.
“Our offensive and defensive lines are both very big and very athletic,” he said. “When we started at trying to look at getting the kids invited that we wanted to play that’s really where we started.”
Several players will be stationed in positions they didn’t play during their high school careers.
“They might have been quarterbacks, now they’re receivers, tailbacks. They might have been wide receivers and now they’re corners, or safeties and now they’re corners. We’ve moved some kids around, but we’ve tried to recruit athletes for all the skill spots,” said Bennett.
The West Team will feature three Hannibal athletes - Dalton Powell, Caleb Bieniek and Jahwaun Cassidy. All drew words of praise from Bennett.
“Dalton Powell really has a great IQ. You can tell he’s a very bright kid. He picks up stuff very fast. He’s really starting to master the stuff we’re wanting to do which is obviously different from some of the stuff he ran in high school. Certainly he has the ability to learn in a very short period of time,” he said. “Caleb Bieniek is a very good football player. I knew that from watching film on him this last winter. He’s just a tremendous football player. Jahwaun Cassidy, I’ve been extremely impressed with his athleticism, but also his workouts. He’s done a great job for us in practice.”
Page 2 of 2 - Despite a short amount of time in which to prepare, Bennett is satisfied with where his team is at.
“I’m very satisfied that our kids will give us a great effort Friday and are looking forward to competing. I’m real happy with how they’ve melded together and how well they get along. I’m thrilled about how quickly they’ve picked up the stuff we’ve asked them to do,” he said.
Bennett wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether the offense or defense will have the upper hand.
“I think it could be either way,” he said. “I tend to think that these things kind of come down to who is going to make the fewer mistakes.”