Living in the southernmost parts of the Deep South, Steven Bench hasn't had to deal with snow very much.
The 17-year-old from Bainbridge, Ga., made up for lost time during his official visit to Penn State last weekend.
"The question I kept getting was have I seen snow before. I have. I've been skiing,'' Bench said in a thick Southern accent. "But I've never had to live in it. So, on Saturday morning, when we were doing our tours, it snowed a little bit. They called it a 'dusting.' I didn't know what that was. I was like, 'what are you all talking about?' The next morning, I stayed with Matt McGloin. I was getting dressed and he opened the door and said we got an inch or two. So, I was like, I have to get used to it sooner or later.
"My first step out goes shin deep in the snow. I was like, 'an inch or two?'''
The shock to the system wasn't enough to turn Bench, quarterback of the Cairo High School Syrupmakers, off to Penn State, though. After returning home, he took a couple of days to think about it and then announced he was joining new Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien's 2012 recruiting class.
"On my visit, I was impressed with the facilities. I've been to a bunch of big-time schools - Florida, Alabama, Florida State, Georgia - I didn't think the facilities could get any better, and I was blown away by the facilities at Penn State,'' said the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Bench, whose parents are both Florida State alums and who says he has only missed one Seminoles home game in the last six years. "Another thing that caught my attention was definitely the school pride. They've got 44,000 students, and I don't think one of those 44,000 doesn't like it there. It's hard to find a place like that.''
Bench had to put aside a verbal commitment he made to Rice to instead make his pledge to Penn State, and also turned down a visit to Mississippi State. Florida State and North Carolina showed interest but didn't offer Bench a scholarship.
"You're not going to beat Rice academics, but Penn State also is a great academic school. Being able to get a top-level education and play top-level football doesn't get any better. It's a dream come true,'' Bench said.
Although Bench will have to get used to heavier snows, his teammates will have to get used to Bench's way of speaking: He grew up not far from Tallahassee, Fla., and his voice sounds like Bobby Bowden's.
"It's a typical down-south accent,'' fellow Lion recruit Wendy Laurent of New Jersey said with a laugh. "He did OK. I was able to pick up on [what he was saying].''
Bench was surprised to hear from Penn State; on a whim, his quarterbacks coach sent a highlight tape to O'Brien, and, shortly thereafter, Bench was getting a call from Nittany Lion receivers coach Stan Hixon asking if he'd like to visit.
"I'm a huge Tom Brady fan. Just the idea that the guy that's going to be coaching me is coaching the best player in the NFL right now in the Super Bowl is just incredible for a 17-year-old,'' Bench said.
While Brady is Bench's favorite player, Bench's game is more like that of a right-handed prep version of Steve Young. A gifted athlete who also is a baseball standout and plays basketball, too, Bench had about as many 100-yard rushing games this year as 100-yard passing games and ran for almost as many as he threw. He said one of the things he enjoys most about football is running and the contact.
"He transferred to our school for one year, and, in that one year, he adapted to our offense very well. He came from a school where they ran strictly option. We're a multiple-I offense,'' Cairo coach Tom Fallaw said. "We didn't ask him to do a lot at first, but, toward the end of the season, we opened it up more. He ran for about 800 yards and threw for about 1,200. He did a good job managing our offense.''
Cairo went 11-3 and advanced to the state semifinals in its classification.
"For a first-year player, he grew into being a good leader for us,'' Fallaw said.
That shouldn't be very surprising. Bench's father, also named Steven, has been coaching football for 30 years. The younger Bench can't remember how long ago it was that he first picked up a football, but he's a professed "football junkie'' who takes the intangible aspects very seriously.
Not long after committing, Bench already was contacting top players from around the country to try to get them to join him.
"I do it because I want the best team possible that gives us the best chance to win. Being a quarterback, that's your job, to lead,'' Bench said. "He's the most influential person on and off the field. They all look to you. You've got to take that role on if you want to be one of the best.''