The crossroads of luck and destiny

Published 8:16 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

People of faith would say it was by design. Others might call it chance or luck. Either way, wide receiver A.J. Bennett and John Essex head coach Jerome Antone got more than they expected when they pulled in to drop off their rental car.

The vehicle was procured for the purpose of taking Bennett to the campus of Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. for the first time. Bennett signed with Lane in February, putting pen to paper on the only offer he received.

While he was grateful for the opportunity at NCAA Division II Lane, Bennett was not entirely comfortable at the school. Whether it was the coaches or the facilities or the fact that he was about six hours away from the friendly confines of Demopolis, Bennett and Lane were not “meant to be.”

Email newsletter signup

But as the very car that drove him away from Lane for the first and final time was being dropped off, Antone had his serendipitous meeting Faulkner University offensive coordinator Corey Fipps.

The Faulkner OC was dropping off a rental car at the same time as Antone after returning from a recruiting trip to Florida.

Coaches have a way of spotting one another, of allowing their kindred spirits to show up on their radar. In this instance, the meeting produced a conversation about a wide receiver that needed a new home a little closer to home.

Fipps would later make a trip to John Essex High School. He talked with Bennett. He watched tape. He set up a campus visit.

At Faulkner, Bennett found everything he longed for at Lane. He liked the campus. He liked the coaches. He spoke of his soon-to-be teammates as if they were old friends. And to top it all off, he was only about two hours from the place he had always called home.

In Faulkner, Bennett found his way to a school that is Christian in both its profession and its principles. A small college campus with a tight-knit student body. There are Bible classes, team scripture studies, campus devotionals and a daily university wide chapel service. It is a school that requires a unique focus and strength of character from its students.

In Bennett, Faulkner found a player who overcame the difficulties of having multiple head coaches over the course of his high school career. A player from a small school where losing had long been accepted as the norm, Bennett earned all-state honors as a junior only to undergo another coaching change. With friends and family telling him to better his situation and transfer to Demopolis, a 5A school with more exposure and better opportunities, Bennett showed a rare strength of character and chose to remain at John Essex. He opted to remain in the uncertainty in order to fulfill an unofficial commitment he had made to his teammates and friends.

The marriage seems a nearly perfect one for both parties. As such, it was no wonder that Bennett wasted no time accepting the scholarship offer from the NAIA school. In so doing, he received his reward for his hard work in athletics and academics; his reward for remaining steadfast amid uncertain circumstances.

Thursday, he gathered with friends, family, coaches and classmates and put pen to paper again. This time, there was certainty. He knew where he was going and how he had gotten there, even if he could not decipher whether it was hope or happenstance that had gotten him there.

Jeremy D. Smith is the community editor of The Demopolis Times.