LeCharles Bentley back on the field
Former NFL All-Pro O-lineman gets back in the game coaching prospects at Nike camps
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- LeCharles Bentley has been called a number of different things in his life.
Rimington Trophy winner.
But one of the things he's most proud to be called is coach.
Just a short time ago, Bentley was one of the best players in the NFL.
Fresh off being named an All-Pro in 2004 and 2005 with the New Orleans Saints, Bentley signed a $36 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. But he suffered a serious knee injury in training camp on the first play of 11-on-11 drills and missed the entire 2006 season.
The injury changed his life as he had to undergo four operations, the final two surgeries to clean out a staph infection that ate away at his tendon and a virus that became so severe he almost had to have his leg amputated.
Bentley retired from football in 2009 and has now dedicated his life to coaching offensive linemen back in his hometown of Cleveland. His O-Line Academy has attracted many of Cleveland's top prospects, and that's where the Nike camp organizers noticed him and invited him to coach on this year's camp circuit.
He accepted without hesitation.
"My experiences are personal to me, but I've finally gotten to the point where I'm able to share them," Bentley said. "It takes one play. It takes one play to change your entire life.
"Coaching is a bit of my calling. It's become my mission. I get excited about this stuff. On a selfish note, it's my way of staying close to football. But the bigger picture, and the most important part of this thing, is knowing that I have been tremendously blessed with a great high school, college and pro career. It's unfortunate on many different levels that my career ended the way it did, but what do you do? Do you sit back and pout the rest of your life? Or do you recognize what was given to me and give it back?"
Bentley easily stood out from the crowd at Sunday's camp with his bulging biceps and booming but controlled voiced.
"See this. See this," Bentley said at one point in the camp. "Everybody come here. Come over here right now. See how 216 gets his butt down. See how he does it. That's perfect. Everybody make sure you look at 216. That's how it's done."
Coaching is a bit of my calling. It's become my mission. I get excited about this stuff. On a selfish note, it's my way of staying close to football. But the bigger picture, and the most important part of this thing, is knowing that I have been tremendously blessed with a great high school, college and pro career. It's unfortunate on many different levels that my career ended the way it did, but what do you do? Do you sit back and pout the rest of your life? Or do you recognize what was given to me and give it back?” -- former NFL All-Pro LeCharles Bentley
Bentley was one of the camp's most hands-on coaches, and he only knows how to coach one way -- with the same type of passion he displayed when he was on the field. He also made sure to take time out to visit with many kids one-on-one, talking about some of the highs and lows he endured in his career.
"From a technical aspect, you can pass along so many things, but I feel the most important facet I can give these kids is to talk about my experience," Bentley said.
"There's nothing I haven't done, tried or thought about doing. That comes with experience, wisdom. You can give so much from the technical aspect, but dealing with athletes like this, in particular football players, there's that emotional connection that many are missing. If you can tune into what the kid really wants out of his life and out of his game, then you can really transform him into something where he's really special."
One player who took Bentley's message to heart was Trenton Saunders, a 2012 offensive lineman from North Palm Beach, Fla., who attends The Benjamin School. Saunders entered Sunday's camp with one scholarship offer (Florida Atlantic), but he was named offensive line MVP after making several adjustments to his game that Bentley suggested.
"He transformed my game in about five minutes," said Saunders, who is also hearing from all of the Florida schools and others like Kansas, Virginia Tech and Nebraska. "He took me aside for a little bit and we talked about everything from hand placement, to a good stance, to ripping your arm the right way when you pull. It felt amazing to work with a guy that was a such a great player.
"It was a real honor that he took his time to spend it with me."
Bentley said he believes Saunders has what it takes to be a good one.
"That's why you do it," Bentley said. "A kid like that has so much potential. He doesn't even know it yet. He doesn't realize what he can be. The one thing that I really enjoy about working with kids like that is desire. You can't coach desire. That's the No. 1 thing that college coaches look for.
"When you start to look around the landscape, people are so enamored with height, weight, vertical, 40, whatever it may be, but does that mean they want to be good football players? A kid like Trenton, he wants to be a good football player. He just happens to have all the tangible things, plus that desire. That's going to allow him to be better than the other guys."
Bentley also cautioned players at Sunday's camp to not get a big head just because they have an offer or two.
"Many people have to go to college and take out loans and leave college in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt," Bentley said. "These kids are going to have an opportunity to go to college, play football and hopefully leave school with a degree. What more could you want?"
When the camp was over, Bentley stood alone when a player from across the field yelled, "Hey Coach, thanks."
That's all it took to make the coach smile.
Jeremy Crabtree is the senior coordinator for recruiting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.