Running back Duane Bennett joined elite company Saturday as he became just the 13th Golden Gopher to rush for 2,000 yards in his career. His 2,069 total rushing yards ranks him 13th on the school's all-time rushing charts.
"It's huge to be included in that group. We have a great running back tradition here at the University of Minnesota. Just to be included in that group means a lot to me and my family," Bennett said. "It means a lot to this team just to see how we've progressed over the last couple years. It shows that the tradition hasn't graduated. Tradition hasn't left the program. To have that under my belt is a great accomplishment."
The game at Northwestern also marked Bennett's fifth career 100-yard rushing game and his second of the season. He finished with a season-high 127 yards against the Wildcats.
Bennett credits his success to the coaching staff and his teammates.
"It's a great accomplishment, but that something's that not done alone. It's something that the O-line has helped me with, something that the offense has helped me with, something that the coaching staff has helped me with," Bennett said. "It means a lot as an individual, but I still look at it as a team success."
After an encouraging freshman and earning Freshman All-Big Ten honors, Bennett suffered a knee injury in the second game of the 2008 season and was redshirted. He returned the following year as the Gophers' leading rusher, compiling 376 yards on 98 carries and six touchdowns. In 2010 he led the Gophers with 996 all-purpose yards. He finished the season with 529 rushing yards on 123 carries including three touchdowns.
As the season is coming to a close, so is Bennett's career at the University of Minnesota. He hopes not only to go out to strong on the field but to leave a lasting impression on the younger players.
"I'm trying to leave a good message for the other backs, trying to be a mentor," Bennett said. "I'm done after this year, so somebody has to take the torch. Somebody has to take over this position. It's something that I hope to instill in the younger guys."
Head coach Jerry Kill wants to coach more players like Bennett. He admires his ability to fight back through adversity. Despite fumbling the ball on the opening drive of the second half against Northwestern, Bennett was able to put the play aside and come back in more focused.
"That kid showed a tremendous amount of character. We need more kids like that" Kill said. "Duane taught us all something today. He messed up, got back in, and played as hard as could play. That's what growing up is all about. That's what life is going to be all about. He's going to have that as a life lesson."
With one game remaining, Bennett needs 81 yards to move up to 12th all-time. If he rushes for over 100 yards again he could secure the number 11 spot. The Gophers play their final game of the season against Illinois on Saturday.