By MICKEY FURFARI
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
David Benn of Akron, Ohio, was an outstanding linebacker on the West Virginia University football team in 1968-69-70.
But the 6-foot-2, 200-pound alumnus became more of a longtime celebrity than he was then. Benn is widely known as a noted artist who still travels around the world painting artwork of people and different views and sights.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life,” he said on a recent visit to Morgantown, “I decided a long time ago if I couldn’t become a head football coach, I’d be an artist.”
Benn explained that he obtained his artistic ability from his deceased father, Jack, who was a painter. So he continued doing that as his entire career.
After graduating from WVU with a degree in physical education and a minor in art, he taught art in Akron schools for 36 years. He retired from that job in 2011.
However, Benn will tell you — proudly and emphatically —that he’s still practicing as a professional artist.
(He even sketched a facial portrait of this writer during the interview).
Benn, who doesn’t turn 65 until Dec. 29, said he really fell in love with West Virginia while he was here. He really enjoyed playing football for Jim Carlen and also Bobby Bowden.
“In high school back home, I played both fullback and linebacker,” he recalled. “But when I went to WVU and met (bigger) Jim Braxton, I told that great fullback I definitely planned to play linebacker.”
Braxton not only starred as a blocking back as a Mountaineer but also for the Buffalo Bills later in the NFL.
“I wasn’t real fast (as a LB),” Benn noted. “But my idea was to deliver a blow and never to take a blow.”
If memory serves, the Ohio native got his fair share of tackles and forced a few turnovers during his three years as a WVU letterman. But statisticians weren’t required to keep defensive stats during that early period.
Benn contributed to sparkling records of 7-3, 10-1 and 8-3. The 10-1 mark in 1969 sticks out in his mind as the most memorable achievement.
That’s the year WVU upset favored South Carolina 14-3 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Bowden, then still the offensive coordinator, installed a completely new set of plays as a secret weapon just for that game.
“It rained hard that night, and the Gamecocks never could adjust to stop our offense,” Benn remembers. Carlen resigned the next morning for another job, and Bowden became head coach.
“I saw coach Carlen the last time he was in Morgantown,” Benn recalled. “And I still keep in touch with coach Bowden.”
So much so, the artist painted a portrait of Ann, the coach’s wife, and she treasures that. So does Bobby.
In addition to the Peach Bowl victory, he can’t forget that shocking 36-35 setback at old rival Pitt in his senior season — and Bowden’s first year as head coach. The Mountaineers blew a 35-6 halftime lead.
Benn, who’s divorced, has three children. They are son Rush, 40, and daughters Kester, 38, and Naomi, 16.
“I love West Virginia,” Benn concluded, “and once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer.”