This article was written by Kelly Patrick, a contributor with KentuckySports.co.
Mario Benavides is a 6-4 300 lb Junior Center out of Los Fresnos High School in Los Fresnos Texas. Mario wears jersey #55 and has started 24 out of 25 games and despite missing a start this past season against Arkansas State has continued the legacy of very dependable and productive Cardinal centers from Travis Leffew (2002-2005) to Eric Wood (2005-2008). Mario will also most likely end up in the NFL like both Leffew and Wood did.
Coming out of Los Fresnos Mario was rated as the #31 offensive tackle nationally and a three star prospect according to Scout.com. After being named first team all-state in Texas as a Junior which is nothing to sneeze at, Mario committed to Ole Miss the summer before his senior season but changed his mind and ended up being the 8th player to commit to Louisville from the class of 2008. Benavides described his decision to switch from Ole Miss to Louisville “Not to say that Ole Miss wasn’t great and they weren’t nice to me it’s just kind of something I feel in my heart. I just felt more comfortable with Louisville. My Dad came with me on my visit and he could tell that I was more excited when I came back from Louisville than I was from Mississippi.”
Along with offers from Louisville and Ole Miss, Mario also had offers on the table from Texas Tech, Iowa State, Arizona and Houston after coming out of the very talent rich state of Texas. Although Mario played tackle in high school the Cards staff knew from the beginning that he projected as more of a Guard or Center at the college level due to his physical stature. That combined with the opportunity for Mario to learn behind Senior Center Eric Wood for a season (which was Mario’s red-shirt season) and immediately took over the starting Center position as a red-shirt freshman in 2009 created the perfect opportunity for the Cards to maintain continuity at one of the more underrated positions on the field.
In 2009 Mario started all 12 games and had a very solid season despite the Cards’ offense being inept for the most part. He started alongside Abdul Kuyateh and Mark Wetterer at the guard positions and a combination of Jeff Adams, Greg Tomczyk, Byron Stingily and Hector Hernandez at the tackle positions. Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein all got starts at the QB position and the team was considered a big disappointment after finishing the season 4-8 before Head Coach Steve Kragthorpe was fired. The offensive line was a unit that was inconsistent as a whole in 2009 but laid the foundation for a very solid season in 2010 with good experience up front during Head Coach Charlie Strong’s first season in Louisville. Going into the 2011 season the O-Line is a big question mark and outside of Benavides there is very limited returning experience.
Earlier in the year Mario was 1 of 43 players selected to the 2011 pre-season Rimington Trophy Watch List which is given annually to the most Outstanding Center in Division 1-A College Football. Despite being projected to have a big Junior season Mario has struggled with a foot injury and his status heading into the season opener on September 1st VS Murray State in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is uncertain. Mario providing stability in the middle of the O-Line may very well be the most vital piece to the Mike Sanford’s offensive unit in 2011.