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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2006
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Auburn tight end says he'll graduate and play some more

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

AUBURN — Tight end Cole Bennett sat on the sideline of Auburn's loss to Arkansas as his broken ankle healed.

He couldn't play in the Tigers' win over Florida. And he missed the win over Ole Miss, too.

By Nov. 7, the senior made up his mind — he wasn't going to return to school, forgoing a medical redshirt to test the NFL waters.

A month later, as No. 10 Auburn (10-2) prepares for Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl game against No. 22 Nebraska (9-4), Bennett has done an about-face.

"Yeah, that's 100 percent," said Bennett, who already has graduated with a degree in information systems management. "I'm going to take a medical redshirt and come back and play next year."

He played only the first three games, which is few enough to make him eligible for a medical redshirt year. He broke his ankle Sept. 16 against LSU and hasn't played since.

Bennett's return means Auburn will have three game-tested tight ends next season. With Bennett out, redshirt freshmen Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie took over, ushering in the future of Auburn tight ends a year earlier than originally anticipated.

McKenzie finished with 12 catches for 125 yards and a score, while Trott had 10 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

"For me, it gives me a personal challenge to prove that I can go out there and still do it," Bennett said. "I feel like I can earn my spot back. I feel like I can prove that I'm just as good or better."

So the question is, what changed?

"Basically, just re-evaluating my options," Bennett said. "I looked at my chances in the NFL and my overall health status right now and decided that it would be in my best interest to continue to rehab and try again next year."

Bennett said he felt he had some unfinished business at Auburn. He added that he didn't want to go out because of an injury.

But, mostly, he didn't feel like he had lived up to the standards he set for himself.

"I've watched films on all the tight ends in the SEC, and I felt like that I hadn't proven my skill level and hadn't reached my potential," Bennett said. "I felt like for the rest of my life I would regret it if I didn't come back and prove to people what I can do."

Bennett's mind began to change as the season wore on.

The more game videotape the team watched, the more he yearned for more college football action.

"Watching other players, and watching people I didn't get to play against and didn't get to show my skill level against," Bennett said. "I felt like if I left now, if I never got to go back, I'd never get another shot at this."

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