BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When the coaching bug bit Tim Bennett, it bit him hard. And he's never looked back.
Bennett was a standout cornerback for Indiana from 2012 through 2014, and he spent some time around the NFL. But when he jumped in as a volunteer assistant coach at his high school in Columbus, Ga., it was over. He loved it so much that he dove right in and put any further thoughts of a playing career in the rear-view mirror.
"I'll be honest, I love coaching even more than I loved playing, and that's saying a lot,'' Bennett said by phone over the weekend. "I just really love being able to help kids, and to watch them grow up and get better. That's a wonderful feeling.''
Bennett, 27, was just named the new defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Woodville High School in East Texas, a small school not far from the Louisiana state line. Bennett spent last season at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College coaching defensive backs. Prior to that, he had been a graduate assistant at the University of Findlay and coached at Northside High School in Columbus, Ga., his alma mater.
He's excited about being a coordinator for the first time, along with being a part of Texas high school football and its rabid following.
"I had a great time at Dodge City, and that junior college experience was really good for my career,'' said Bennett, who was a junior college player himself for one year before transferring to Indiana. "You want to help guys like me, guys that either didn't qualify (academically) or guys who just got forgotten about and needed a second chance to prove themselves to people.
"It was a great learning experience, but I'm really excited about this move. I really love it there (in Texas), and it's a good situation for me. Being a coordinator is the next step in the journey for me, and it's going to be fun. This next step will really be great.''
Bennett was a two-year starter for the Hoosiers and played a lot as a sophomore as well. His cornerbacks coach, Brandon Shelby, was pretty young in his career then, too. They sort of grew up together in the IU program, player and coach, and they remain very close to this day. Shelby is now in his 10th season with the Hoosiers, and he and Bennett talk often.
"Coach Shelby is an amazing man, and he's been a great mentor to me,'' Bennett said. "He always lets me make my own decisions, but he always give me his viewpoint. Whenever I need something, I reach out to him.
"He's done so much for me in my life. He's a great man, a great mentor, and I love him to death.''
Shelby feels the same way, calling Bennett "one of his favorites.'' Bennett was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection in 2013, was awarded Indiana's "Defensive Teammate of the Year' Award in 2013 and won the Harold Mauro "Loyalty to IU Football Award'' in 2014. He led he country in pass breakups that season.
Video: Brandon Shelby discusses Tim Bennett
"There's a lot of great memories with Tim at IU, but I really remember that he was a part of that first team that ever beat Penn State (in 2013), and the game that he played. He had tenacity and toughness. He was not a big guy, but he played big and he led the country in pass breakups for us. He would look adversity in the eye and go after it.''
Shelby always remembers how hard Bennett played, because coming from a junior college, he always felt like he had to prove himself. Because of that work ethic, he had a great college career, and was a real favorite among his Indiana teammates.
"He's a guy who came from a junior college, so his path to a Power 5 wasn't easy, but he got it done,'' Shelby said. "He comes from a great family down there in South Georgia, and I just really always enjoyed recruiting him.''
Now that they share coaching lives, the two talk often. Shelby loves how Bennett goes about his business as a young coach.
"I just love the way he continues to fight for what he wants. He's worked his way up quickly,'' Shelby said. "He represents Indiana in a high fashion. He works hard, he goes out and does the little things and I've always been impressed how he's carried himself since he got done (playing.)'
"He's going to be a guy who, at the end of the day, when he gets the opportunity to come to the college level, he's going to be a great recruiter and he's going to do well. I wish him the best, love him, appreciate him. He's going to be a guy to watch out for in the upcoming years.''