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Benjamin built speed by chasing rabbits

Posted Oct 9, 2013

Chasing rabbits in Belle Glade, Florida, helped Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin build up the speed he uses every day on the football field.

Slow and steady may win the race, but quick and agile catch the rabbit.

Long before he was returning punts for touchdowns in the NFL, Cleveland Browns wide receiver/punt returner Travis Benjamin spent much of his free time in his hometown of Belle Glade, Florida, catching rabbits as they retreated from the local cane fields. By trying to catch rabbits, Benjamin developed the speed that he puts on display every Sunday.

“When you burn the cane, the rabbits are going to scatter out,” Benjamin said. “When you see the rabbits scatter out, you go chase them. I saw a guy catch at least 60 or 70 in a day, and he was out there by himself. It was some local guy, and for fun, he’d just go out there and catch them all.

“When I was growing up, it used to be a thing. We have a tradition that we’d go out there and catch rabbits. I caught 20 in one day before. There’s nothing to it once you know the tendencies, what the rabbit’s going to do, when they’re going to come out. It’s a great feeling. It’s just about going out there and having fun with it.”

Since telling his teammates the story about how he developed his speed, Benjamin has been referred to as “rabbit” within the locker room, and in the Browns’ 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills last Thursday, he was “quick like a bunny” when it came to punt returns.

Benjamin returned seven Bills punts for a total of 179 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown that turned a 10-10 tie into a 17-10 Browns lead with 2:20 to play in the first half.

In returning those seven punts, Benjamin broke a nearly 20-year old franchise record for the most punt-return yards in a single game, a mark that Browns Legend Eric Metcalf previously set at 166 yards on Oct. 24, 1993.

“No matter who it is, we just want to make that play to have a game-changing moment,” Benjamin said. “Knowing that we can go out there as a team and I have great blocks on special-teams plays, at least seven or eight blocks and guys blocking their way down the field, it’s always a great feeling when you have teammates that help you get in the end zone.

“It’s exhilarating. You can feel your heart pumping and everything kind of moves in slow-motion for me because I can see the end zone, and I know can make it, the greater chance I have of getting there.”

After watching Benjamin average 15.1 yards over 17 punt returns this season, his teammates and coaches alike know how much of an impact he can have on the team.

“I had been fortunate to be around some guys that were really fast,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I know Travis’ nickname is ‘The Rabbit,’ so you don’t need to say much more in terms of where he would rank with those guys. But when you grow up chasing rabbits, you’re going to be pretty fast, and he is.”

Quarterback Brandon Weeden added, “He’s up there. In any other sport, I think the only guy I’ve seen that’s faster is (Cleveland Indians outfielder) Michael Bourn. Michael Bourn laid down a bunt on me in ‘A ball,’ and I remember coming to the dugout like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Him and Travis, they’re smaller guys that can just fly. Not only on offense, but on special teams, he’s a spark for this football team.”

After his 179-yard, one-touchdown performance, Benjamin earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors on Wednesday. However, in the eyes of the rabbit-catcher from Belle Glade, it was a team award.

“It’s a great feeling, knowing that it’s a compliment for me, and something I can just cherish, but we’ve got to go out there next week, as a special-teams unit, and try to get another one,” Benjamin said. “It’s a unit thing. When I first heard about it, I went and congratulated everybody who’s on the special-teams unit because, without them, there wouldn’t be a return for me. It was a great feeling for the unit.”

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