Texas' Benson ready to put 'subpar' season behind him

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:46 PM ET

AUSTIN, Texas -- For most running backs, rushing for nearly 1,300 yards on an 11-2 team would be a heck of a season.

For Texas' Cedric Benson, 2002 was a season of frustration, full of aches and pains and the sinking suspicion that he had lost some respect from his teammates and coaches.

The new season, which kicks off Sunday night against New Mexico State, is a chance to put all that behind him.

"It was up one week, down the next," Benson said Monday, describing the kind of roller-coaster season when he would run for 49 yards against North Texas one week and 208 against North Carolina the next.

"It was crazy," he said. "I just couldn't get the ball rolling and stay in the groove."

Benson struggled partly because of nagging toe and rib injuries and an offensive line that was often powerless to move the line of scrimmage. Though he gained 1,293 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, Texas' 3.45 yards-per-carry average as a team was its lowest since 1988.

After setting a UT freshman record with 1,053 yards in 2001, Benson's sophomore season was expected to rank among the school's all-time best.

Statistically it did. He had the sixth-best rushing season in school history in a record book dominated by Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell. But it lacked the fireworks of those players' best seasons and Benson failed to crack 100 yards over the final five games.

At times, he couldn't even stay on the field.

Always a grinder, Benson fought through the injuries but seemed a step slower getting to the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff sometimes turned to Selvin Young to bring a quicker dimension to the offense. Twice last season, Young had more yards than Benson in Texas wins.

"There would be games where I'd get rolling and get pulled out. You don't want to get pulled out when you're rolling, you want to stay in," said Benson, who acknowledges he didn't discuss his concern with his coaches.

"I'm sure they (the coaches) had expectations themselves for me and I guess when I didn't meet their expectations they kind of turned their heads and started second-guessing."

Texas coach MackBrown has said the coaching staff didn't know how banged up Benson was last season until the media told him what Benson had told reporters.

"If anything,"Brown said Monday, "Cedric gained respect last year because he played hurt. A lot of guys won't do that."

Senior wide receiver Roy Williams said he could see that something was wrong last year.

"I know how he can run. I played against him in high school," Williams said. "Last year just wasn't the Benson I knew. He still had 1,300 yards. If he was the guy that I knew, he would have had 1,800 or 1,900."

By all accounts, Benson is healthy this year. He cut short his minor-league baseball commitment with the Los Angeles Dodgers this summer to train for football. He's up to about 220 pounds, about 15 pounds heavier than last year, and says he's "bigger, faster, stronger" than ever.

"I'm working harder than I ever have," Benson said. Reviews of his performance in fall practice have been nothing short of spectacular.

Brown has a hint of sarcasm as he chuckles at suggestions Benson had a down year last season.

"He has a tremendous amount of pride,"Brown said. "I believe he's the only back in our history to gain 1,000 yards or more for two years in a row. That's unbelievable and we're wondering what's wrong with him."

Benson says his only expectations for himself and No. 5 Texas this season are to win every week. He won't talk about personal goals.

"Last year I had expectations. If expectations aren't met, it's very easy to be let down," he said. "My high school coach used to tell me `Don't go out there trying to run for 200 or 300 yards. Just go out there trying to win."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index