On Friday, Sept. 10, the stars aligned for Northwestern's Ben Benes.
The senior defensive lineman had swatted down balls and recovered fumbles for the Tigers, but his football resume was missing something: an interception return for a touchdown.
That changed in the second quarter, when the Tigers were up 35-0 over Barron. His play tacked on six additional points, with a kick from Dawson Kriske making it an even seven.
The 'pick-six' is something Benes said he will never forget.
"It was a dream come true," he said. "It’s not very often that a D-lineman gets to run an interception in for a pick-six."
Benes, who also played on Northwestern's offensive line and at fullback later this season, is the Telegram's 2021 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
His accolades include being selected by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association for first-team All-State as an offensive lineman, honorable mention All-State as a defensive lineman, All-Northwest Region on the offensive and defensive lines, and first-team All-Heart O' North Conference on the offensive and defensive lines.
In addition to his pick-six, Benes had 34 solo tackles, 17 assisted tackles, 51 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, one sack and three forced fumbles.
Benes' play and his leadership were key factors to the team's success this year, said coach Jovin Kroll.
"He was the center of both our offense and defense, so what he had the ability to do was to bring guys together and ultimately in a year where you go 9-0 (in the regular season), you win the Heart O’ North and you advance to the state quarterfinals, he had so much to do with that," Kroll said.
A starter since he was a sophomore, Benes' leadership skills grew to the point where he ran the calls on the offensive and defensive lines.
"Ben was like having another coach on the field. He would adjust blocking schemes at the line of scrimmage before the play was run. He would come off the field, or even between plays, and tell us what plays would work and what plays won't — which way we should run the ball, who were the opponent’s weaker defensive players we could attack ... everything Ben set tended to come true as far as what we should run out there," Kroll said.
Late in the season, though, his duties on the offensive side of the ball changed when teammate and fellow senior Greg Ohman went out with an injury.
Benes filled in for Ohman at fullback and still kept running calls for the offensive line.
When asked about the challenges of the season, Benes mentioned his stint at fullback and said it forced him to learn different aspects of the offense.
"We didn’t have a backup, so I ended up getting moved to fullback just to block. We got depth behind the line — not running backs," he said. "It was a good choice to put me back there and put our secondary kids in my spot."
Overall, the season went better than Benes expected.
Having played together for most of their careers, the Tigers understood each other and knew how their teammates played. They used that familiarity to their advantage and focused on working hard to make a deep postseason run.
"We all knew what was at stake and that everyone has been looking forward to it," he said.
Benes plans to enter the workforce after graduation and said it's been tough to leave football behind.
"I’ve played since second grade. It’s always been my game. It was definitely hard to let go," he said.
Looking back on his football career, Benes thanked his coaches for their guidance.
"All-State wouldn’t have happened without my coaches," he said.
Superior Telegram Football Players of the Year
2021 — Ben Benes, Sr., Northwestern
2019 — Jarrett Gronski, Sr., Superior
2018 — Reagan Ruffi, Sr., Northwestern
2017 — Reagan Ruffi, Jr., Northwestern
2016 — Gunnar Gronski, Jr., Superior
2015 — Nate Pearson, Sr., Northwestern
2014 — Nick Mehlum, Sr., Superior
2013 — Nick Mehlum, Jr., Superior
2012 — Ben Erickson, Sr., Superior
2011 — Justin Alexson, Sr., Northwestern
2010 — T.J. Polkoski, Sr., Northwestern
2009 — Ryan Miesbauer, Sr., Northwestern
2008 — Joe Reichert, Sr., and Chris Blake, Sr., Superior
2007 — Chris Blake, Jr., Superior
2006 — Max Phillips, Sr., Superior; and Austin Lind, Sr., Northwestern
2005 — Kiel Fechtelkotter, Sr., Northwestern
2004 — Clayton Leith, Sr., Northwestern
2003 — Clayton Leith, Jr., Northwestern
2002 — Chad Izzard, Sr., Superior; and Mark Simonson, Sr., Northwestern
*A Player of the Year was not named as the prep football season changed drastically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.