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Sept. 15, 2006

By Alyssa Aber

Leaders are born, not made. Senior cornerback Fred Bennett is a leader.

As this season’s only returning starter in the secondary, Bennett could have shied away from the responsibility connected with taking charge, but instead he embraced the role.

“Being a leader has been exciting and challenging. We are a young defense, but we don’t play young,” said Bennett. “It’s my job as the leader to get everyone’s confidence level real high so that they will perform well.”

Bennett’s talent and character has solidified him as one of the constants on an evolving starting lineup. Bennett came to South Carolina as the fourth-rated high school player in the state. Since coming to USC, Bennett has had the privilege of playing for two of the best in Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier, recording 21 starts at cornerback and playing in all 35 games over the past three seasons.

The Manning, S.C., native has earned a reputation for being an aggressive player who can make plays. In fact, Bennett’s proudest on-field accomplishment to date came when he recorded two interceptions in the Gamecocks’ road win at Alabama in 2004. Bennett picked off three passes as a junior in 2005 and recorded an interception in each of the first two games of the 2006 season.

Entering the 2006 season the Gamecock defense had its share of question marks, but the group has been very impressive through two games, allowing only one touchdown and a total of 18 points. Bennett has recognized the talent of his peers and is using his leadership to help mold the defense into a cohesive unit.

“I’m a person that leads by example,” said Bennett. “Sometimes I have to lead vocally, and if I have to I will, but I prefer to lead by example.”

When Bennett’s final collegiate season comes to an end, he hopes to pursue his love of football professionally. Ranked as the top cornerback in the nation going into the 2006 season by one publication and following in the footsteps of several former Gamecocks defensive backs who are now in the NFL, he has good reason to think he’s got a shot at playing on Sundays.

“I want to take this football thing to the next level, take it as far as it can go,” said Bennett.

But for now Bennett just wants to enjoy his senior year and help the Gamecocks win as many games as possible by continuing to lead the young defense. At the end of the season Bennett hopes to have imparted his teammates with the insight that he has earned during his successful career at USC.

“It’s important to just stay focused, do the little things and let the big things come to you. Don’t rush things. Take your time with everything that you do,” said Bennett.