East-West All-Stars: Efird, Benge: All-stars and walk-ons
By Mike London
GREENSBORO ó East-West quarterbacks Garrett Benge and Jonathan Efird combined for 104 touchdown passes and 10,936 yards in high school.
The roommates also combined for just one college scholarship offer.
A.L. Brown’s Efird turned that offer down. It came from Division II UNC Pembroke.
Efird (6-1, 205 pounds) threw for 4,598 yards and 47 touchdowns in a run-oriented offense and for nearly 600 yards in two playoff struggles with Charlotte Catholic. He isn’t a snob, but he didn’t grow up dreaming about throwing passes for UNC Pembroke.
Efird is also a realist. He knows he’s not going to be quarterbacking Tennessee, but he believes he can make a difference at Western Carolina. He’ll be a preferred walk-on with the Catamounts. That means he’s on the team and he’ll have a chance to earn a scholarship.
Benge (6-0, 195 pounds) broke just about every record on the books at Davie County ó 6,338 yards and 57 TD passes in three seasons.
The lack of offers for him was even more puzzling than colleges ignoring Efird.
Benge isn’t as big as Efird, but he’s fast and he’s proven himself operating from the shotgun formation. He’s shown he can make rapid decisions and find the open man in the spread offense favored by an increasing number of college teams.
Benge’s favorite player is Kansas QB Todd Reesing. Reesing, who is 5-11, threw 33 TD passes for the Jayhawks last season.
Benge is walking on at Wingate. It’s likely he’ll earn a scholarship there, and there’s a reasonable chance he’ll start down the road.
Benge and Efird have similar backgrounds and had a lot to talk about in their hotel room.
Both had to wait their turn at schools that are used to winning ó Efird followed Sean Fortson, while Benge came after Brad Corriher.
Both had a chance to hook up with elite receivers when they were juniors ó Efird had Josh Gray and Benge had Kenny Rivers before he was hurt. Both had a slight dropoff in their passing stats as seniors while throwing to normal humans.
Both are all-round athletes. Efird was the leading rebounder for Brown’s basketball team as a junior and leading scorer as a senior.
Benge, a talented pitcher before he decided to concentrate on football, proved to be a great center fielder when he made a baseball comeback at Davie this year.
Efird had the advantage going into East-West practice because he’d been under center and taken snaps in the I-formation before. East Surry’s David Diamont, the West head coach, is as old-school as it gets.
“I’m an old-fashioned, smash-mouth, run-it-at-ya kind of guy,” Diamont announced. “Lots of people like the spread because they like to sell tickets, but that’s not me.”
Diamont did put in a handful of pass plays that assistant coach Kelly Holder brought with him from Mount Airy, but it was pretty obvious all week the West wasn’t going to air it out unless it got down by 50.
“This offense was completely new for me,” Benge said. “It was a switch, and it was hard to learn everything in just a week, but I tried hard to get it and to get all the plays right. On the other hand, when I ran the East’s offense against our defense in practice, they showed me the playbook, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is the spread. I already know all this stuff.’ ”
Benge enjoyed the week, which included a church visit on Sunday, taking in the East-West basketball games on Monday and checking out “The Dark Knight” at the movies on Tuesday.
“Lots of pool time,” Benge said with a laugh. “Lots of ordering pizza, just hanging out at the hotel with the guys and meeting new people.”
Making new friends is right up Efird’s alley. He’s never met a stranger, and he had his offensive linemen invading his room to crash-land on top of him after the first practice.
By the second practice, he had a nickname for everyone.
“I can’t remember names, so I gave out nicknames,” Efird said. “My center was Goldberg because he looks like the guy from Mighty Ducks. Casey Augustine (a 300-pound offensive lineman) was Superbad because he looks ó and acts ó just like a guy in the movie.”
Efird, who spent Monday cheering for East Rowan’s Justin Vanderford ó “Hey, he’s great and he was representing our area” ó said the 10:45 p.m. lights-out and 6:45 a.m. wakeup calls this week weren’t easy to adjust to, but he knows he’s going to have to rise and shine at 6 a.m. at Western Carolina if he’s going to make it.
Benge and Efird knew their college coaches planned to be at Wednesday night’s game. They wanted to make a good impression, although they realized opportunities were going to be severely limited in a smash-mouth offense.
“Watching tape, we knew these two guys were quarterbacks we wanted because they were going to be in shape when they got here and they had no egos,” Diamont said. “They’re good athletes, but in my system, they weren’t necessarily going to get a chance to show how good. They were going to spend a lot of time handing off to even better athletes.”
Efird threw only 11 passes last night in the West’s 27-3 setback. He completed five for 32 yards, with no picks.
Benge rushed six times for 10 yards and showed some elusiveness, but he never got to throw a pass.
Still, both quarterbacks were honored to be part of the historic game.
“It was the last high school experience for all of us, and we really wanted to win it,” Efird said.
After coaching Efird and Benge for a week, Diamont believes both have a chance to prove some people wrong.
“If you’re going to play in college, you must be competitive and hungry, and you have to really want it,” he said.
“Those two kids look like they do.”