Bob Bentsen always laughs to himself when his new teammates get their first look at Doug Johnson flying around a football field at top speed.
Bentsen has seen it a time or two.
“The intensity he brings – I’ve seen it my whole life,” Bentsen said. “Some of the guys, this is their first time seeing it and I’m like, ‘That’s the same old Doug. He hasn’t changed a bit.’”
Johnson could say the same when Bentsen unloads a 60-yard deep ball or rallies his team for a last-minute scoring drive.
The Warwick natives have seen it all from each other before.
This fall, they’ll see it one more time.
Bentsen and Johnson are seniors and two of the top players on the University of Rhode Island football team. They’re on different sides of the ball now and they took different paths to Kingston, but when they take the field for the season opener on August 29, they’ll be together again, just like they were when they went out for Warwick PAL football more than a decade ago.
“We were probably eight or nine,” Bentsen said. “It’s been a long time.”
Their footprints are all over each other’s football journeys. They were in the same age group with Warwick PAL, climbing the ranks and leading a dynamic group of players. In the PeeWee division in 2002, Bentsen and Johnson helped take Warwick PAL to the brink of a national championship appearance. Their team lost in the regional final to Dorchester, Mass.
“Bob used to hand me the ball off to me,” Johnson said. “It was fun. It’s nice to still be on the same team.”
That roster was dotted with players who went on to big things, like Hendricken All-Stater Matt Brown, who attended URI briefly before playing at American International College.
Bentsen’s and Johnson’s paths diverged in high school, but they were part of the same story – a period of tremendous success for football in Warwick.
Bentsen was a three-year starter under center for the ’Canes, and his presence set the stage for Vets to trot out the best aerial attack Rhode Island had seen in years. Bentsen threw 85 touchdown passes in his career. Across town at Toll Gate, Johnson was a four-year varsity player on both sides of the ball and he helped take the Titans to the Division II Super Bowl in 2007 and a near-upset of Hendricken on Thanksgiving in 2008.
“We’ve grown up together, played together, played against each other, talked back and forth, talked trash,” Bentsen said. “Doug’s a good friend of mine and it’s great playing with him again here.”
Bentsen committed to URI out of high school. He took a redshirt year in 2009 and had to wait his turn in 2010. Midway through the 2011 season, he grabbed the starting job and hasn’t let go. He started all 10 games last year.
Johnson spent two years at Dean College before heading to Kingston. He made an immediate impact in 2011, finishing second on the team in tackles from his linebacker position and earning third-team all-conference honors. The 2012 season was supposed to be his last, but a shoulder injury lingered. He gutted through three games before he and the coaching staff decided on a medical redshirt. Johnson had surgery in November and will be at full strength when the 2013 season kicks off.
The redshirt season also put Johnson back in line with Bentsen. The Rams are happy to have them leading the way as the team tries to put things back together after a winless 2012 season.
“Both guys are great players for us,” said URI head coach Joe Trainer. “They kind of took different tracks. Doug went to Dean College, Bob was here right out of high school. Both guys are very accomplished players in high school. We knew we were getting great players. They’re both great guys, high character guys. We love having them.”
Bentsen led the Rams to a pair of victories when he took over in 2011. He was the first Rhode Island native to start under center since 1992. Despite the lack of wins last season, Bentsen is currently the most accurate passer in school history and he needs just 310 yards to become the program’s 10th 3,000-yard passer.
But Bentsen doesn’t buy into any measure of success except one.
“I’ve obviously made some progression but coming off last year, you can’t say you did much well,” he said.
The Rams expect major improvements on the offensive side of the ball this season, and Bentsen will be in the middle of them.
“He’s done an unbelievable job assuming a leadership role,” Trainer said. “He’s got a better supporting cast around him and he’s poised to have a great year.”
Johnson’s presence should help the cause, too. Without him last year, the Rams ranked last in the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring defense and total defense.
“It’ll be great to have him back,” Trainer said. “I’ve coached a couple of guys who have played beyond college and he reminds me of a guy named Ray Ventrone, who was with the Patriots and is with San Francisco now. Not a real big guy but a tremendous football player. I think Doug is cut out of the same mold, and if he stays healthy, he’s going to be as good a player as there is in the conference.”
Johnson has been held out of full-contact scrimmages as a precaution during fall camp. The first player who takes a hit from him on August 29 probably won’t be happy.
“Definitely itching to get back out there,” Johnson said. “This is my third year here and this the most confident we’ve been. This team is a family. We’re coming together.”
The Rams remember last year – and they don’t want it to happen again.
“A lot of motivation coming off last year,” Bentsen said. “I think it built some character. Having to come out in the second half of some of those games – it’s tough to do. A lot of the guys that went through it, I think the feeling of being there makes you not want to go through it again.”
Bentsen and Johnson may both explore football opportunities after college, but for now, the coming season is their only focus. It’s one last chance to take the Rams to new heights – and one last chance for two of Warwick’s best to share a little more football.
“You obviously want more success, but the experience has been great,” Bentsen said. “All of us hope we can go out and be successful in our senior year.”