Janesville Craig lineman Keeanu Benton can't wait to get started with Badgers
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Janesville Craig lineman Keeanu Benton can't wait to get started with Badgers

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JANESVILLE — Keeanu Benton struggled to sleep Tuesday night.

He wasn't wrestling with a decision. That had been made months earlier.

Benton was simply too excited to relax.

The Janesville Craig senior signed his national letter of intent to play football for the University of Wisconsin on Wednesday morning. He celebrated the occasion after school with friends and family.

"I got the jitters in my stomach and couldn't go to sleep," said Benton, who the Badgers listed at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds in their signing day release. "I was thinking about it all day yesterday. This morning, I woke up, came in and signed, and I was planning on going back to sleep but I couldn't.

"We (the other Badgers recruits) were all just in a group chat talking."

Recruiting experts have said this UW class is likely the best in head coach Paul Chryst's tenure. He was hired in 2015.

Benton was one of three in-state recruits to earn a full-ride scholarship offer out of the 19-player class.

"I'm getting to know some of them more and more, like the other defensive linemen, Gio (Paez) and Rodas (Johnson)," Benton said.

The signing day put an official stamp on what has been a meteoric rise for Benton.

A standout wrestler who has qualified for the WIAA state tournament the past two years and finished as the Division 1 state runner-up at 285 pounds as a junior, Benton's recruitment flew under the radar a bit until programs began calling last winter.

Benton had an offer from Iowa and was drawing interest from other Football Bowl Subdivision programs, but he quickly fell in love with UW. He verbally committed to Chryst and the Badgers in May and never wavered.

"My freshman year, I didn't think I'd get this far, and now the day has come to sign, and I'm just so excited," Benton said. "Since sixth grade, I've been here and going to Madison. You see everyone wearing Badgers clothes and you think, 'I want to be that guy.' You see people playing football and the success people have, and I want that."

Benton was named first-team all-state as a defensive lineman after finishing with 75 tackles, including seven for loss and two sacks

"I think it speaks volumes about Keeanu how many people are in this room right now," Craig football coach Adam Bunderson said to a standing-room-only crowd in the school's small auditorium. "He's a tremendous person, tremendous kid. Obviously, athletically he's come a long way. But as a staff, we were a lot prouder with how much he's grown as a young man."

Benton also earned second-team all-conference honors as an offensive lineman and was chosen as The Gazette's area player of the year after helping Craig to a 6-4 record and second straight trip to the playoffs.

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