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Veterans Middle football coach 'embraces' eighth grade recruiting attention
Dante English
Veterans Memorial Middle football coach Dante English believes his team has what it takes to challenge for a league crown. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

COVINGTON, Ga. – Dante English knows who Rusty Mansell is, and he doesn’t mind the fact that one of his top eighth graders now knows who Mansell is also.

Mansell, the football recruiting specialist, got the chance to see Veterans Memorial Middle School standout Justin Benton in action at a football camp at Lassiter High School Sunday and wasn't shy about expressing his thoughts about the 13-year old player's upside. 

In another tweeted video, Benton is seen executing a pretty impressive swim move on high school lineman. That drew the attention of RecruitGeorgia, one of Georgia’s largest and well-known recruiting services, and just like that, Benton, and by proxy, Veterans Memorial have been thrust into a bit of a spotlight. 

But unlike some who may say that such publicity for such a young player can’t be good, English says he welcomes it wholeheartedly.

“Oh, I embrace it fully,” English said after a Wednesday practice. “Before I came here, I was offensive line coach at Lithonia High School, and it wasn't anything for us to pick up a phone and call a coach and say, 'Hey, come take a look at this kid,' because it wasn't even about the accolades. It was just about getting those talented kids exposure. I don't see anything different here, if a middle school kid is ready for it.

"For Justin, I mean, he deserves everything that comes to him. I don’t even know the right words to say about that kid. He comes from a good family, his mom and dad are well grounded. He gives you 100 percent on the field. No disrespect. Integrity, and the thing I like most is he’s an honor roll student, but when he hits the field, he’s locked in and it’s all about football.” 

And it’s in Benton’s genes, as his father played at bothNewton and Georgia. He’s been showing his chops as a defensive lineman at several large camps, including the Football University three-day outing in South Carolina. He’s also been selected to play in the Georgia Elite Classic game on the rising eighth grade team.

As far as it goes at Veterans, English said he’s banking on Benton along with several other highly regarded eighth graders such as Ahman Jackson, Bryson Virgil and Kyle Veasley to step in and fill in the gaps left by the departures of Willis Shepherd, III (Salem High) and William Nash (Grady High).

The Generals lost in last year’s NewRock League championship game to an undefeated Cousins squad. But English said with the likes of Benton, Jackson, Virgil and Veasley, the 2018 squad may introduce a different kind of element for opponents to game plan against.

“This year I have more athleticism, versus last year I think we had more toughness,” English said. “But we won’t know that for sure without putting on the pads.”

But in Benton, he has an athletic specimen who’s squatting north of 315 pounds in the weight room and proving himself to be the team’s tone setter on and off the field.

“I just like his leadership. It’s not just about the work ethic,” English said. “But he’s the kind of kid who’s just ready to step onto the football field and show greatness. He wants his team to be great. He wants to leave Veterans with a legacy, and I say that he will. Sky’s the limit for that kid.”

So much so, English says, that he believes the Mansell shoutout is just a mere scratching of the surface to what’s in store for Benton.

“I can’t wait to pick up a newspaper three years from now or so and see where he’s signing to,” English said. “I know he’s going to be that type of a player.”