The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have some international sports-lingo confusion – and the desire of a young boy to make friends in his new home – to thank for the newest member of their offensive line.
On Saturday, the Buccaneers used their fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, number 148 overall, to select UCLA offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch. It was the first deviation from the a draft that had been all about defense and special teams to that point. The 6-5, 305-pound Benenoch, who started 35 games over three years with the Bruins, saw action at both tackle and guard and could prove to be a better prospect on the interior line.
Born in Nigeria, Benenoch emigrated to the states with his family when he was eight. He quickly became interested in youth sports for the same reason millions of kids do: His friends were playing it. He brought home the paperwork in elementary school to sign up for football, and his mom was more than happy to fill it out. Of course, they both believed, and understandably so given what most of the world calls the sport, that they were signing up for soccer.
"I just wanted to make friends, honestly, and that's what my friends were doing," said Benenoch. "It made me happy being out there playing with all my friends from school. I never specified American football, I just said football, so she got excited and said, 'Okay, I'll sign you up.' So I got all the paperwork and it was American football.
A look at the newest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We got out there and it was a complete different game than we thought it was, but I fell in love with it really, really fast. I've been playing it ever since."
Benenoch did also play youth soccer, and says he was pretty good at it despite usually being one of the bigger kids. His soccer-honed footwork prompted coaches to initially put him at fullback and nose tackle, and he didn't move to the offensive line until high school. He excelled there and ended up at UCLA where he was one of the better blockers in the Pac-12. Benenoch won second-team all-freshman honors in 2013, and honorable mention all-conference honors in 2014. He started 31 games at right tackle and four at guard from 2013-15.
Benenoch's blocking helped running back Paul Perkins lead the conference in rushing in 2014 and finish his career as UCLA's third-leading career rusher. Coincidentally, Perkins was drafted by the New York Giants with the very next pick after Benenoch went to the Bucs.
INFOGRAPHIC: UCLA'S CALEB BENENOCH
Tampa Bay showed significant interest in the UCLA lineman in the months leading up to the draft. They interviewed Benenoch during the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and then Offensive Line Coach George Warhop ran him through an extra workout in the subsequent weeks. Benenoch felt a rapport with Warhop and was pleased for the opportunity to play for him in Tampa.
As for where he will play on the Bucs' line, that question will be answered in the months to come, but any position is fine with the 21-year-old rookie.
"I think I can be just as good at either one," said Benenoch. "I played a lot of tackle in my career, so that's where I have more experience. But they both come natural to me so I'm looking forward to going out there and playing football."