Hoosiers will add receiver Malachi Bennett to 2021 class

When Fairfield High coach Keon Handley outlines what Indiana is getting in the last piece of its 2021 recruiting class, receiver Malachi Bennett, he can’t help but think of what he’s giving up.

“This is a kid that, honestly, as a coach, if I didn’t have to share him with the world, I’d keep him until I retired,” Handley said.

Obviously, Bennett is talented. At 6-foot-2, nearly 190 pounds, he’s considered a four-star prospect by recruiting services. He’s so talented, Bennett took snaps with Fairfield High when he was in eighth grade. He was a receiver, but Handley moved him to quarterback as a freshman, just to get the ball in his hands more.

For sure, a versatile, long, athletic receiver with ball skills just committed to the Hoosiers on Tuesday, and he will make things official Wednesday during national signing day. But Handley’s pride in Bennett goes beyond playmaking. Competing for a town that was ravaged by a tornado in 2017, Bennett has been a quintessential model citizen, becoming one of those beacons of light for a community in need of some positivity.

Handley will think way back, recalling a snap from Bennett’s freshman year, when he was actually flanked out wide on a fourth-and-13. Bennett snagged a pass that was two yards out of bounds. Somehow, he kept both feet in.  

But what sticks in Handley’s mind are Bennett’s reactions to those plays.

“That infectious smile, man,” Handley said. “He’s going to be a guy, man, that truly Hoosier Nation is going to embrace. They are going to love to see it. They are going to love him.”

It’s been a long recruiting journey for Bennett. Again, he was anything but under the radar, and UAB — just an eight-minute drive from Fairfield’s campus — offered Bennett when he was a freshman. In August, Bennett shocked some prognosticators by initially choosing his hometown school over finalists that included Georgia, South Carolina, Louisville, and Ole Miss.

When Bennett decided to open things back up in November, the Hoosiers were able to make another pitch.

Most of IU’s work on the 2021 class was completed by December, when 13 freshmen and a grad transfer, D.J. Matthews, inked letters of intent. But this is an important addition for an ascending program.

IU receivers coach Grant Heard continues to replenish talent behind veterans Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall and now Matthews. Like with incoming freshmen Jordyn Williams and Jaquez Smith, who both hail from Georgia, Bennett is another addition via IU’s southeastern pipeline. He will be the highest-rated prospect of the three, slotting in as 247Sports’ No. 47 recruit nationally at receiver.

This is the Hoosiers continuing to build off their successes in 2020, which certainly affected Bennett’s decision-making process. IU has been on Handley’s radar, at least, since Jordan Howard transferred from UAB to the Hoosiers and made his way to the NFL. This past season just upped the program’s reputation.

Bennett, in return, brings an intriguing athletic background to the Hoosiers. His uncle is Earl Bennett, a former Vanderbilt receiver who played for the Chicago Bears from 2008-13. Along with his snaps under center and out wide, Bennett has also made plays as a defensive back for Fairfield. He had 29 tackles and two interceptions as a senior.

He has also starred on the hardwood for Fairfield. Bennett averaged better than 11 points and 6 rebounds per game for a state title team in 2020.

He is long, athletic, and fast. He has won with speed and in jump-ball situations. He is not necessarily a talker, but he will respond when shots are taken. He will block his chattiest adversaries until the whistle blows.

“He’s going to give you that million-dollar smile and laugh at you and let you know it’s going to be a long night,” Handley said. “If you really start talking to him, he’ll look back at you every time he catches the ball. He’ll let you know ‘You shouldn’t have woke me up. You shouldn’t have started this, because I’m going to finish it.’”

That combination of talent and character has made Bennett a foundational piece for Fairfield, beginning with those snaps at quarterback in 2017. He was slowed by a foot injury as a sophomore, but then he exploded for 45 catches, 821 yards and nine scores as a junior.

The pandemic set in during the spring, limiting Bennett’s ability to take official visits. But he still had his options, and Bennett initially picked UAB because of its family feel. Handley knows that kind of atmosphere was a priority for Bennett when his recruitment opened again in November.

Handley tried to stay hands-off with Bennett’s recruiting process. But he cares so much, Handley did have a conversation with Heard just to get a sense of what IU could offer.

“Is he going to be with someone who is going to love him like he’s one of their own children? Because that’s kind of the way I’ve coached Malachi, like he’s one of my own sons,” Handley said.

That is the environment IU has pitched to recruits, based on Tom Allen’s “love each other” mantra. Again, Handley wouldn’t give up Bennett if this wasn’t just the nature of prep sports, but IU is a suitable next stop.

“Once I gave him my blessing and I supported him, that made his decision a lot easier,” Handley said, “because, like I said, he’s a kid that values my opinion and I value his sanity, knowing he’s making the best decision for himself.”

Like most recruits, Bennett hopes to play early. If his career tracks in college like it did in high school, he should have an opportunity to do that.

Regardless, Bennett’s supporters are proud to see him making his way to IU.

“The city of Fairfield, we had some struggles, our community kind of dwindled with numbers,” Handley said, referring to the aftermath of the 2017 tornado. “For the kids that we have in the community, these guys that we’ve had over the past four years have given them hope.

“I look forward to seeing him play in the fall — and scoring those touchdowns with that infectious smile.”

31 comments

  1. Bennet is a talented athlete that excelled on the football field and basketball court. We see what that combination creates with Fryfogle. Hopefully, Bennet will use his skills to become a dominate receiver in the B1G. He has been described as a playmaker and IU can use all the playmakers on offense they can get.

    1. V13, not sure Bennet will get a chance to play in games with Fryfogle during Fryfogle’s last season at IU. Bennet’s not arriving on campus until this summer and he’s got a lot of talented and experienced players ahead of him. If any freshman receiver is likely to get significant playing time in 2021, my guess is that it will be Jaquez Smith.

      But just look at the depth IU has built at receiver! Imagine the competition for playing time given the collective talent of these three freshman wide receivers. They will benefit a lot from watching and being mentored by Fryfogle and D.J. Matthews next season. And they’re going to “grow up” with an equally talented freshman QB. Those four guys, if they all play on the scout team, are going to give the starters some tough competition in practice next season.

  2. More good news for IU FB, and more evidence that TA’s program has become very appealing to players coming from SEC country. Look at the FB programs we beat out for this young man’s commitment! I can remember the days, not too long ago, when IU would not even have tried to recruit this level of talent.

    I can see the day when Bennet takes the hand-off or lateral on an end-around and throws the ball downfield.

  3. When you look at the qb’s IU will have passing the ball and the accomplishments of guys like Philyor and Fryfogle, it’s not hard to see why IU is now getting 4 star receivers. I didn’t think this kid would sign with IU because of the talent already on the roster. But steel sharpens steel. This another great step forward for the program. Are we officially a football school yet?

    1. 123, Bennet would have been competing with the same level, or even a greater level of talent had he signed with any of the other schools that made him an offer. IU’s recruiting and talent level is getting better and better, but it’s still not up to SEC standards.

      1. So UAB, Arkansas St, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Illinois, Maryland, Southern Miss, Toledo, Troy, and Tulane all have better receiver talent than IU? Podunker your comment is foolish.

        1. With the exception of his home town school (UAB), the schools that were the “finalists included Georgia, South Carolina, Louisville, and Ole Miss.” Those were the schools he was most likely to commit to if he had not selected IU. And yes, the level of talent at those schools is the same if not greater than the talent IU has. At least read the article before you start calling others foolish.

          1. He didn’t have “committable” offers from all of those schools. UGA, for instance, wasn’t an option for him. The staff really like this kid and he fits the profile they’re looking for.

          2. From SI.com, “4-Star wide receiver Malachi Bennett has narrowed down his recruitment to eight schools and the University of Georgia is one of them. The 2021 receiver from Fairfield, Alabama, got offered a scholarship by the Georgia Bulldogs a week ago today”……….

          3. I checked, just to verify what I’d already been told. The quote you referenced was from a May 1, 2020 SI.Com article. That’s nine months ago. What you should’ve paid closer attention to was who the other seven schools were in his “Final 8”. Nowhere on that final list was the one he signed with today. It’s recruiting. Things change.That offer from UGA wasn’t one he was able to commit to in either December or today. There was a reason he reopened. Glad we stuck with it and signed him. Just wanted to clear up your misunderstanding.

  4. I think IU is now a football school but the team needs to prove it this coming season. PO, I expect any incoming freshman to now have to spend a year or two at IU before contributing significantly. The roster is getting deep with quality players and it is hard to see any breaking in except for any rare talent IU brings in.

    123, one of the big advantages of a better roster is how talented the scout team becomes which vastly improves the team that hits the field on Saturdays.

    No news about the new RB coach, any ideas if we will know after the Super Bowl is played?

    1. I keep waiting for the announcement of IU’s new RB coach. I’m wondering what the source of delay is and if money is the problem? After what we paid to our new DC, the coaching compensation budget may be straining at the seams. I assume TA is offering at least what Hart was getting paid, but maybe some of that money went to the new DC.

  5. Po, the rumor is the new coach, when named, will be a coach from the KC Chiefs who previously coached RBs at IU. Now I have no inside info but the word from posters around B-town is this is who will be named coach. If so we won’t see anything until after the Super Bowl on Sunday. It makes sense to me why the coach is not named so far if it is true about the coach coming in.

  6. V13: That would be Deland McCulloch.
    It would be nice,..but leaving a superbowl team for IU, again, for the same position job would surprise me. Sounds like a backwards move. I still contend the OL gig needs to be substantially upgraded.

    1. I bet he does because his two sons will be going to college soon and he wants to be with them. He cares about young people and wants to get back to them. People just don’t understand how many hours each day the NFL coaches put in. Your life in NFL is very hard as a coach in the NFL compared to college. You get help with breaking down the films and help with recruiting with down time.
      The time coach Allen is taking is a good idea he is coming to IU but we will have to see.

      1. V13: If that’s the case, then that would shed a different light on the matter. I hope he does. Makes sense.

        1. I don’t know him BD but can draw some conclusions based on what I know and read to increase my knowledge. I remember the stories about him when he coached at IU, and HT wrote about his background in Cincinnati and the impact he had on those boys. You will learn I use many different sources and not just my experience. As I said I need to wait and see like everyone to know if he is coming back to IU.

          1. Interesting. I mentioned to you recently that someone had been identified, so stay tuned.

            Am interested in your thoughts on our recruiting. You claimed a year ago that the 2019 bowl game would really propel our recruiting for 2020-2021. We seem to have done decently, though I don’t see any difference makers here. Your thoughts?

        2. So do you know it isn’t DM or not? I didn’t say it would improve 2021 because that class was already signed but in 2022 unless my declining typing skills said 2020-21 otherwise it was about the efforts to recruit in those years.

          You don’t see difference makers in the class for 2020 then you aren’t a very good football fan that breaks down films of them. Even coach Allen has said a WR may step in to play this coming season.

    2. Sorry V13, but I agree with Brad; those rumors don’t make any sense. McCulloch left IU for USC and a lot more money. He then left USC and went to the K.C. Chiefs for even more money (and prestige). Why would he want to take two steps back and return to IU for a job he left years ago? Do you think IU can afford to pay him the kind of money an NFL team pays him? Do you think he would take a significant pay cut to return to Bloomington? And the Chiefs have a reputation for being a first class organization with a great GM and a great head coach.

      It would be great if it turns out to be true, but unless there is some deeply personal/family motivation involved, I just can’t imagine why McCulloch would choose to return to IU or, with the exception of OSU and Alabama, any other college program.

  7. I see that septegenarian, Mike DeBoer, is joining Les Miles at Kansas. Now there’s a youth movement if I’ve ever heard of one! Very ‘old’ pals back at Michigan about 25+ years ago.

  8. When we see a couple of interior OL/DL coveted 4*’s decide to direct their size, strength and bulk to Bloomington, that will be a true sign that things have actually changed. It’s ‘trending’,…but there’s a pretty good way to go until then.

    1. Brad, I agree somewhat. Recruiting the best HS O-linemen in the country is the final sign that a college FB program has arrived amongst the elite. But the other talent IU is now signing definitely signals that IU is rising rapidly. I have no idea how secure Hiller’s job is, but I suspect it will be very expensive for IU to replace him with an O-line coach who has proven to be better (at recruiting and developing O-linemen). So that would likely leave IU to look for candidates in the “up and coming” category; younger men who have proven themselves at mid-major programs. And the problem hiring those guys is that they get swept up by the elite college FB schools who have a lot more money to spend.

      IU FB’s primary obstacle to becoming an elite FB school is money. Compared to most other Power-five schools, IU just doesn’t have the FB Coaching Compensation budgets to hire or retain the best coaches. That’s why what TA has accomplished is so special. He’s serving champagne to the Hoosier Nation even though his budget can only afford beer.

  9. IU has recruited very good receivers and a very good QB and RBs one is big and the other one has very good speed also IU pulled in a very good CB on defense. With COVID19 this the big bump in recruiting now will be in 2020 if it is going to happen.

  10. I don’t know who will be the RB coach but I hope he is a very good coach and recruiter. What I was posting was about the rumor in B-town and if it isn’t who they think then we know how rumors go. I am open to whoever coach is because coach Allen brings in very good coaches.

    1. V13, I hope you and the rumor mill in Bloomington are correct and that McCullough will be announced as IU’s new RB coach. He was an excellent RB coach while at IU, and was successful recruiting and developing RBs that went on to be starters in the NFL. But I’ve always been lead to believe that being a position coach in college is much more demanding than being a position coach in the NFL. I was lead to believe that being an NFL coach allows for a better life style because they don’t spend time on the road recruiting and they have more time with their families, at least during the off season.

  11. Seems like a very good catch, but does he like to block? Difference between a receiver and a football player. James Hardy was one heck of a receiver, rest his soul.

  12. davis, that’s why I’ve always said that Walter Payton was the greatest FB player of all time. He may not have been the greatest RB of all time, but he did all the little things with excellence, including run and pass blocking. Doing those other little things so well differentiated him from all other RBs. And he was a vicious blocker. IMO, had he had a reasonably good O-line during his first five years with the Bears, he would still be the leading rusher (total yards) of all time.

    1. The one detail I always liked about Payton was after every tackle, he reached out and set the ball down as far forward as he could reach. The ref would run up, pick up the ball, and set it down where it should have been.

      But every once in awhile, the ball got left where Payton had set it.

Comments are closed.