Michael Lewis

Returning the favor is important to Coastal Carolina’s Bennett

by Michael Lewis October 08, 2012 in Men's Soccer

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In January, Ashton Bennett had a giant carrot being dangled in front of him as he was being touted as a possible top 10 pick in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
While rookies certainly don’t make millions in pro soccer in the United States, getting an opportunity to pursue a career in an avocation that you love can be enticing.
But there was only one slight problem—the Jamaican native would have had to give up his senior year at Coastal Carolina University, and that was not an option on Bennett’s list of priorities.
Bennett said he told his family “that if I come to America to study and play soccer I’m going to make it a priority that I’m going to graduate first. I want to stick to that goal of graduating before I move on. Hopefully, professionally.”
So, it should not be surprising that Bennett is among 30 men’s candidates nominated for the Senior CLASS Award, which is given to the college senior soccer player who demonstrates excellence in four areas—community, classroom, character and competition.
When he was notified he was a candidate, Bennett admitted he was surprised, but honored as well.
“It’s nice to be not only being recognized for your work on the field but also off the field,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to know that.”
A sports and recreation management major, Bennett hails from the economically challenged parish of Clarendon in southern Jamaica. He has used soccer to leave behind some difficult living conditions, not unlike what basketball players have done to escape the inner city to play pro basketball.
“Soccer is the only thing that I had used to get where I wanted to,” he said. “It’s my life. I’ve put a lot of energy into it and sacrifice. I will continue to do it until I can’t do it any more.
“It wasn’t easy growing up where I’m from. I tried my best to use soccer to get out of it and get an opportunity. It’s rough. You’re aware that you can make it, but not everyone is going to get an opportunity to do it. If you see a way to get out, you’re going to take it. Soccer was my way out.”
A scout saw him play as a teenager in Jamaica and recommended him to Cincinnati State, a two-year school that recruited current Jamaican National Team and Colorado Rapids striker Omar Cummings. Bennett excelled there, helping the team to reach the NJCAA championship game while earning an associate of arts degree in business before transferring to Coastal Carolina.
In his first year at the Conway, S.C. school, the 5-9, 167-lb. Bennett was virtually unstoppable, earning first team National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American honors while recording 23 goals and seven assists in 22 games. The Chanticleers (18-4) reached the second round of the NCAA Division I tournament.
“Coming into last year, I wanted to make an impact, get my name out there, so [everybody] would know who I am,” he said. “Every school I’ve gone to, I’ve always tried to leave a mark out there. Coming in here, that was my biggest motivation, trying to make an impact playing soccer, getting my team’s name out there. I think our team did a good job last year.”
No one has to remind Bennett that it is not just about soccer, but giving back as well. He has been involved in just about every team community service project. He volunteered every Monday at the practice at the Grand Strand Miracle League soccer program for special needs children. He also volunteered at the Myrtle Beach Triathlon and played a role in Coastal Carolina’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Christmas project and the Pee Dee Elementary School supply drive.
Bennett said that he wanted “to use soccer to help other kids as well. I know what it’s like not to have anything or not come from a background that’s financially stable. I’ve received a lot of help, so I want to return the favor.”