For Iowa's Seth Benson, the South Dakota State matchup is personal … in a good way

Iowa linebacker Seth Benson believes every game he plays has a special meaning. But even this week's matchup is different, he knows.

Admittedly, he's looked forward to Saturday's season opener against South Dakota State for quite some time. 

In 2017, Benson was a senior at Washington High in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Originally a South Dakota State commit, Benson flipped to Iowa after an unofficial visit just before the early signing period that year. Shortly after, he and best friend Zach Heins, who signed with South Dakota State, compared their future schedules and realized something: in 2022 (their fifth years) they'd face off against each other in the first game. 

"I played him playing against him in peewee football and middle school," Benson said. "We were at different middle schools but from there on out we were we were on the same team so kind of throwing it back to the younger days. That'll be fun but obviously he's a great player, so we're gonna have to be ready for him and, and all of their other skill players as well." 

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Then factor in Benson's personal ties to the Jackrabbits program: his father, Chuck, and older brother, Austin, played for the football program and his mother, JoElle (women's basketball), and sister, Ellie (volleyball), are former SDSU athletes as well.

When asked how many people he's expecting for the game, Benson replied 'more than normal'. 

Benson has been a core piece to Iowa's defense since 2020. He starts opposite of Jack Campbell at weakside linebacker and his sure tackling has made him one of the Hawkeyes' most reliable players. But Benson himself doesn't warrant much attention. 

Campbell holds a long list of preseason accolades, including first-team All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. And fellow linebacker Jestin Jacobs is among the top linebacker prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft according to some experts. Benson is an All-Big Ten performer, but with other notable linebackers and big names like cornerback Riley Moss, he can still be considered underrated. 

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday that Benson is likely used to being overlooked, pointing to his recruiting process. He was South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior but wasn't highly recruited. When he came to Iowa for the pre-signing day visit, Ferentz wasn't sure if he was going to offer him a scholarship.

More:Hometown Hawkeyes hope to make an impact during 2022 Iowa football season

Ultimately, the offer came and it's a decision Ferentz doesn't regret. 

"He doesn't have the physical attributes or measurables that (Campbell and Jacobs) do," Ferentz said. "But he's played a lot of winning football for us. So invested, such a strong leader. I think that's one of the beautiful things about sports and football; not everybody is going to be a first-round draft pick, but you can still play good football and play winning football, and Seth has done that. Ultra respected by everybody on the team." 

Iowa linebacker Seth Benson (44) is entering his third year as a starter at weakside linebacker.

Benson is a product of Iowa's development model. His career started on special teams and at that time was playing LEO, or outside linebacker. He then transitioned to strongside linebacker (where Campbell is now) to his current weakside, also known as the Will. Benson enjoys the diversity of the position, defending the run heavily but also contributing to pass rush pass coverage. 

Benson echoes the same goal his close friend Campbell outlined over the summer: for Iowa's linebackers to be the most dominant unit on the field. According to Benson, the group focused heavily on communication with the defensive line and secondary to make sure they're always aligned. Personally, he's been watching a lot of film to improve. 

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"Just trusting in what I see, anticipation," Benson said. "That goes back to film study. So just being really convicted in what I see and then from there just really being good in pass coverage." 

That will be tested on Saturday against South Dakota State's offense that's filled with FCS-level star power. Their rush defense will be tested by FCS preseason All American running back Isaiah Davis and there's a good chance Benson will match up with Heins, one of two starting tight ends for SDSU with NFL Draft prospect Tucker Kraft.

South Dakota State's Zach Heins runs the ball on Oct. 9, 2021 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota.

"We have to be ready for them disguising thing to get guys open," Benson said. "We have to be good in our fits and our keys, getting hands on and disrupting (the tight ends) so they can't play their game."

More:Four things to know and watch when Iowa football hosts FCS contender South Dakota State

Benson reiterated several times that he hasn't changed anything in his preparation leading up to Saturday's contest. His consistent approach is what's lead to his rise through the program. 

"He's over all the complex stuff," Ferentz said. "He doesn't have a complex about how tall he is or how much he weighs, that type of thing. He's just played really good football for us, and thrilled he's on our team." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.