Benny Sapp Jr., a 6-foot-1, 185-pound safety from Eden Prairie (MN) High, is the first 2018 commit for Minnesota. He committed to new head coach P.J. Fleck Saturday after visiting the campus with his father, Benny Sapp, a former Minnesota Viking defensive back.
Gopher Hole caught up with Sapp to learn more about his decision.
Gopher Hole: You committed to Minnesota over the weekend. What was the main reason that you decided Minnesota was where you wanted to be?
Benny Sapp: It's Coach Fleck and his facility and staff and just how they are changing the whole program around and the culture. One thing that really made me want to go to Minnesota was my family, because I am a big family man and what really caught my eye over there was when my dad and I were talking to Coach Fleck and one of his mottos is on the wall and it's called FAMILY. The acronym for that is "Forget about me, I love you" and that pretty much had me sold on the program. What also had me sold was that they are going to play me fast and early and I am going to be a leader in my class and that we are going to start something special and that never happened before in Minnesota.
Gopher Hole: The coaching staff is very new at Minnesota. When did you first start hearing from Minnesota?
Benny Sapp: I saw them a few weeks ago and the funny thing is, Coach Fleck came to my school at Eden Prairie and he was like "I'm going to get back, trust me. We are going to make sure that you don't leave the state of Minnesota." I was like "Yeah, yeah. Sure." I thought that they were going to lay off of me. I thought that they were just talking. Monday, they texted me because I guess they finished with the 2017 Class. They called me and offered me and they wanted me to come up Saturday to visit. Me and Coach Fleck and my dad, we Face Timed each other and we talked on Tuesday and I was like "Wow, he really kept his word," so I am pretty sure if I go there, anything he says, is pretty much going to be kept.
Gopher Hole: I know that you just committed, but do you feel a bit of a weight has been lifted off your shoulder already?
Benny Sapp: Yes. I feel a whole lot of weight off my shoulders, but it is like I got weight put off, but now I've gotten weight put back on, because now I have to be a recruiter, instead of a recruit. It is going to be very tough to get these kids to come up here with me.
Gopher Hole: Eden Prairie had a couple of former teammates on the defensive side like Danny Anderson and Tommy Fuller, who recently announced that they will be preferred walk-ons at Minnesota. Had you talked to them much before you made your decision about Minnesota?
Benny Sapp: I haven't, but I have worked out with both of them last weekend. Tommy is a great athlete. Tremendous athlete. One thing about Tommy (5-foot-9) is that you just can't judge a book by its cover because, Tommy, everything he does is excellent. Danny, just has it, because he doesn't have to work as hard because he just has the body frame (6-foot-2 and 220-pounds) and the stature just to move around, but Tommy just has to work pretty much harder than others just to maintain and keep up with everybody and that is what I like about him.
Gopher Hole: You have suffered two torn ACL injuries in your career. What was the process of rehabilitating from those injuries like?
Benny Sapp: The process was rough. I'm not going to lie to you. The first time, I tore it was very rough, my freshman year at the end of the season. It was very rough. I got into a "Why me" moment, because I was very hot at the time. I was getting a lot of scholarship offers. I think that everything happens for a reason. I think God did that to pretty much humble me down a little because I was pretty loud with my mouth and he humbled me down and I learned from that. The second time, it came around, I was at the wrong time. I wasn't at the wrong place, since I was at the practice field, but I was at the wrong time. Just trying to come back and prove to everybody that I could still keep up with everybody, but it doesn't really matter. I don't need to prove to anybody but God. He pretty much showed me again that you don't need to prove anything to nobody. Just prove it to me.
Gopher Hole: Have the doctors said anything about that this should not be a problem in the future?
Benny Sapp: Oh, yes. The first time that I tore it, I was 5-9 and 155 pounds. They said that I have grown three or four inches and it shouldn't be a problem because I am pretty sure your ACL reconstruction graph got stretched over those three inches and in like ten months, I grew. I shouldn't have a problem since I don't think that I grew too much the second time and they used the patella tendon this time, because they couldn't use the hamstring and I had still have five inches left on my growth plate and it might stunt my growth. They used the patella tendon and it feels a whole lot better. It's crazy.
Gopher Hole: Does it ever come in the back of your mind little bit when you are working out or do you try not to even think about it?
Benny Sapp: I don't even think about it. I feel so good. My body feels so good. I just forget about everything. I forget that I had all those surgeries and I really, honestly, I don't let it hold it back. I just put it in God's hands and if it was my time, I wouldn't have torn it, so I think the third time is a charm and He has given me a third chance at life is the way I look at it, so I am just hoping that it is my time.
Gopher Hole: Eden Prairie finished 11-2 this past year, losing to Totino-Grace in the Prep Bowl 28-20. They have lost in the title game the last two years after winning the previous three titles. What will it take to win the title as a senior?
Benny Sapp: What it is going to take to win the title this year is it comes to a point of how bad do you want it. I am not going to lie. There are a lot of kids on my team that are very hungry. It is not like they don't have the talent to go out and win this thing. It is all about the mental and all the commitment that they will put the effort in this season all season.
Gopher Hole: You started your high school career at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, who is not only one of the top programs in Florida, but in the country. How did playing for Aquinas help you as a player?
Benny Sapp: St. Thomas taught me so much. St. Thomas pretty much turned me into the man that I am today. They taught me how to compete because you come to St. Thomas, everybody is a competitor, but it just gave me a different type of competition in my heart and it gave even a more love for the game, because you know in little league where there is one player who will just dominate the whole league. It wa spretty much all those kids who were dominating in all those leagues at St. Thomas, so everyone is good and every day, you have to come to work. You can't slack and it taught me work ethic, dedication, grind and discipline.
Gopher Hole: To be honest, a lot of people look at Eden Prairie as the premier program in Minnesota. Most Minnesota don't know a lot about St. Thomas. How do you compare the programs?
Benny Sapp: I don't think that St. Thomas has a weakness, but what it has over Eden Prairie is there is a lot of exposure because of the tradition that has been set since 1990. The other thing that they have got over Eden Prairie is that they have spring ball and unfortunately, we can't play with the snow and all that stuff. They have a little bit more time to fully concentrate on football than other states, because it is a sunny state and it never snows. That is why I think that St. Thomas has a little bit of edge on Eden Prairie. Eden Prairie, all those kids are dedicated and it taught me even more stuff, too. It taught me a lot of stuff. Before I came to Eden Prairie, I thought it was all about talent, but then I got to Eden Prairie and it doesn't even matter about the talent. It is about the plan. I would say that there is a minimum of amount of athletic kids around like me, but there are a lot of kids, who works very, very hard and it helps them out on the field. Their experience might help them catch the ball or their experience might help them play like way. You might not be very athletic or a person like me, but they are dedicated and put in a lot of work.
Gopher Hole: How would you describe yourself as a football player?
Benny Sapp: I would say my favorite scheme is a 4-3, two-man type of defense, like a Tampa 2 defense. I love man. Cover 2 corner. Zone corner 2. Come down and hit. I am very energetic and that is why which pretty much helped me pick Coach P.J., because he is very energetic and he is pretty much giving you goose bumps. I just love the energy. I am very energetic. I am very humble. I'm friendly. Everybody on the team loves me. I'm not just for myself, but I am supporting the other person. I'm there for others, which is what Coach Grant taught me, too. St. Thomas taught me about brotherhood that might help you out in life forever. I think of others before myself. I'm the type of person on the field, if someone needs help, I would most definitely help them out. I wouldn't just sit there and say "Oh, that's their fault," and see them get yelled at. If I can stop the situation and help them right at that moment, I will, because I want everybody on my team to eat. I just don't want all the shine. I want all my friends to shine with me.
Gopher Hole: What has the reaction been among your family and friends since your commitment?
Benny Sapp: They are very proud of me. Me and my dad, if you can see my picture, we were tearing up a little and our eyes were very low from crying. Very exciting and humbling experience to have in life. Just to see God working in mysterious ways, because I just moved up here six months ago and Coach Fleck decided to choose this state to coach at, because there were other schools to pick from and he choose Minnesota and I feel that it was just a call from God at this moment and I just couldn't deny God and what he had for me at Minnesota.
Gopher Hole: How much of your love of the game comes from your father?
Benny Sapp: My love of the game comes from watching my dad in the NFL and that pretty much made me want to play football. If my dad had played hockey, I probably would have played hockey as well, but what got me hooked on to football a little bit more than him is that once I started to play it. You know how former NFL players' sons play football for a little bit and then they stop and do something else, but me once I played, it was done. I just knew that was what I wanted to do at five years old.
Gopher Hole: What are your memories of his time here in Minnesota as a former Viking player?
Benny Sapp: I remember when I was eight years old, I think it was 2008-2009 season. That was my dad's first year with the Vikings and my dad introduced me to Adrian Peterson and I shook his hand. Once I shook his hand, it was a very strong grip. I didn't really know how to shake. I was like eight or nine. I shook his hand and he squeezed my hand firmly and I came to one knee on the ground and I was screaming like "Oh my god." I was running around the place and saying "Oh my hand" and everybody was laughing at me and I told my dad that I have to go back and shake his hand. I came back and stood tall and had my chest high and came back and shook his hand. It still hurt, but I didn't fall to the ground.
Gopher Hole: How many years have you been in Minnesota total in your life? I know that you were here when you were younger.
Benny Sapp: I would say eight months. I was here for like a month and a half when my dad was with the Vikings. The Vikings gave him a big contract and me and my family started to move up here in 2010 and then a month and a half later as we were moving up here, he got traded to Miami, so we moved back in our hometown of Fort Lauderdale.
Gopher Hole: How do you like being back in Minnesota?
Benny Sapp: I love it. It is very nice and the people are very fun to be around with. They welcomed me with open arms and everybody is so friendly and come out together and all for each other. That is what I like.
Gopher Hole: You missed all of last year. Did you all of your freshman year, too or just part of your freshman year?
Benny Sapp: I pretty much missed the whole season and I came back in the spring.
Gopher Hole: How hard was that to basically miss two whole years because I know that you are a competitive kid?
Benny Sapp: That just made me the definition of what hunger is because not everybody, I'm going to be honest with you, can bounce back from ACL surgery twice. It is a very minimum number of people that can do it one time and when you are doing it twice, it has really opened up my eyes and showed me how much I love the game. I could have easily checked out with the ACL surgery and could have stepped away from football just like that and done something else with my life, but I can't do that because that is not the type of person that I am. I am never a quitter. It made me very hungry. Hungrier and made me more humble. I took a lot of mental reps and just understanding the game a little bit better as I was watching and it has made me hungrier and I just can't wait to get on that field next year.
Gopher Hole: What is it going to feel like to be back on the field as a senior?
Benny Sapp: It is going to feel very emotional, because all the hard work that me and my dad put in at nights. Waking up in the morning, going to the field, working out in the gym, all those nights. Waking each other up, going to different stuff. Praying to God that this doesn't happen again. It will be very emotional.
Gopher Hole: You mentioned that now that you are a recruit, you are going to be a recruiter. Are there certain kids that you think that you want to reach out or have you thought about that?
Benny Sapp: I hit up a couple of kids from my favorite school, St Thomas, and the first person I am trying to get up here is Marquis Williams. He went to Coconut Creek, but now he is at Cardinal Gibbons. He is the nephew of (former Gopher great) Tyrone Carter. Me, my dad and Tyrone are very close because we are from the same county from Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach area, Broward County, so we all come together. We all hang out some times. Me and Marquis have hung out in Florida, but my dad and Tyrone hang out a lot and I just can't wait to see if I can get him up here. He likes it. He likes it up here, he told me a couple of days ago. He said that he really likes it and I told him that we would start a movement that had never been done before at Minnesota and we'll just see if this is for him.