This story didn't even start on United States soil.
Both of Eno Benjamin’s parents, Lawrence and Helen Ekpo, are of Nigerian descent. Benjamin’s birth name is Enotobong, which means “God’s Gift” in his family’s native tongue. It also is the reason why those letters remain at the beginning of the biography session contained within his Twitter profile.
Benjamin performed at a high level and put together a historic four-year varsity career at Wylie East High School in Texas. He tallied 7,546 career rushing yards and 111 total touchdowns and finished as the 10th-best running back prospect in the country. Benjamin originally committed to Iowa but de-committed in October 2016. He then signed with Arizona State.
As an early enrollee, Benjamin started his career in a reserved role and mainly on special teams — totaling 142 yards on 23 carries while also returning six kickoffs for 119 yards in 2017.
Then, Benjamin experienced a breakout sophomore season. He started in all 13 games the 2018 season and went on to break the school’s single-season rushing record (1,642 yards) last set in 1972 by Woody Green, who recorded 1,565 yards. Benjamin also recorded 16 touchdowns. During his final season for the Sun Devils, he rushed for 1,083 yards and 10 scores while also recording 42 receptions for 347 yards and two touchdowns. Benjamin became the first player from Arizona State to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Freddie Williams from 1974-75.
Now on his way to the NFL, I had a chance to spend last weekend talking with Benjamin as he walked me through his Texas childhood, career as a Sun Devil, future aspirations and his next venture playing in the 2020 Reese's Senior Bowl.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Question: Both of your parents are of Nigerian descent; talk about that experience, how that played a role in your upbringing and how that has helped you to date.
Benjamin: Really, from a young age, my parents were always at work, and it was just me and my brother in the house. Our parents would always tell us to never go outside, but we never listened and we would go anyways. The funny thing about this is, we actually moved houses so we could have a backyard to play because we were always out somewhere. I feel like everything that I do is a resemblance of them and that's exactly how I try to carry myself and go about my business.
Q: You played basketball, soccer and baseball growing up but you didn't play football until the fourth-grade. How did that entire process happen?
B: My brother was the first to play sports and coming from a Nigerian family, soccer was always the sport. I remember always growing up and watching him play basketball and soccer over the summer. I never necessarily thought about the other sports because I always saw my brother scoring goals and I knew I always wanted to do that. I fell in love with the game of soccer and no one really introduced me to football. Football was something that I always saw on TV, but it was never a dream or aspiration to grow up and be one of those guys because it was always about school and soccer.
Q: During your junior year of high school, you played in a playoff game with a separated shoulder that kept popping in and out. Take me through that experience.
B: We were running a trick play and it was a jump pass from me and I was the quarterback. I took a snap and jumped in the air. The guy that I was supposed to throw the ball to didn't get the full play, so he was blocking when I was in mid-air trying to throw the ball to him. Someone came from under me and clipped me, and I ended up landing on my shoulder right before the half. I just remember not thinking about it and laying in the locker room like this really hurts, but I knew we had a bad first half and my team needs me. I just pushed through it. We were in a playoff game and I knew that I couldn't let my boys down.
Q: You were a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school and a Texas guy. What made you choose Arizona State?
B: For one reason, Todd Graham had Dallas ties, so I felt comfortable in that system. Watching Kalen Ballage run the wildcat is something that corresponded to what I did in high school, so I thought that would be a great fit. From another perspective, running backs coach John Simon played a huge part for me. I never really gave Arizona State a shot. When I first dropped my top-10 schools, Arizona State wasn't even on there. I kept trusting the process. He gave me a blueprint on the things that I would be able to do when I came to ASU and if I abided by that, these are the doors that would open for me.
Q: Graduating in three years had to be a tedious process. How did you stay focused on completing your degree that quickly?
B: From a young age, I've always kept close relationships with the people running Nike and Adidas 7-on-7 camps. I've always wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up watching Law and Order Special Victims Unit (SVU). I've always wanted to be one of those guys. I started paying attention more to guys at Adidas and what they're doing, and I was like, ‘Man, I really like this.’ This is a way to kind of stick with the game of football, but also give back to kids.
I got my degree in business marketing and I wanted to pursue that. I took all of these accounting and finance classes to better help and prepare myself for what I'm going through now with agents, so we could all be on the same page. I always knew that I wanted to play in the Senior Bowl, but I had to graduate in order to do that. Last spring semester, I took 18 credit hours and then this past fall I took 21 credits to get that done.
Q: Because you were only a junior, a lot of people failed to realize you actually obtained your degree. That was quickly made known after you accepted your invitation to the Senior Bowl. What does playing in that game mean to you?
B: It is definitely an honor to go play in that game. I have a lot of friends that play in the SEC and talk about this, that, and blah, blah, blah. I think this is a pretty cool opportunity to go out there and show that I'm able to go out there and compete with those guys.
Q: On the field, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
B: My ability to see things. Being able to break down a defense and not just knowing the play and where it hits, but if a 3-technique takes a gap away or slant then my eyes have to go here. Being able to understand the blocking scheme and not just the run play.
One thing that I could definitely work on is being aware. Just knowing more about the game of football. Especially when it comes to pass protections and knowing where I should run my routes because this linebacker is doing this or he's playing like that.
Q: Who's a player that you model your game after or someone you try to replicate?
B: I don't think there's one specific player. I like lots of running backs around the league and I try to take little things from each running back and implement them into my game accordingly.
Q: Who's the best player and defense that you have ever faced in your college career?
B: One of the smartest players I've ever played against was the linebacker from Stanford. No. 20. Bobby Okereke. He was a very smart player and also No. 89 from Cal. Evan Weaver. He was a very instinctual player. The toughest defense that I have ever played was Utah by far. They were very physical up front.
Q: Herm Edwards. I have to ask you about him. What type of impact did he have on not only you but the program as well?
B: When he came in, even from the first time that he spoke to us, he was a very genuine guy. He's always let us be ourselves. There are no real rules, I would say, but there are guidelines and boundaries you have to abide by. You're free to move in any reign, but you couldn't cross those boundaries. If you did, there were consequences.