Belle Glade, Florida has a population just shy of 18,000.
Located in the southeastern portion of the Sunshine State, Travis Benjamin grew up just two houses down from the Chargers fifth round draft pick, Jatavis Brown.
The two played in the same little league system as Brown looked up to Benjamin, who is four years his elder. In high school, Benjamin was a gridiron star as a senior when Brown was just getting started on the JV squad.
Going to college in nearby Miami, the wide receiver kept tabs on the outside linebacker while the rising high school star watched his hometown hero make his mark with the Hurricanes.
I<span style="line-height: 1.5em;">n 2012, the Cleveland Browns selected Benjamin in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. That same year, Brown began his collegiate career at nearby Akron. Less than an hour apart, the pair continued to keep tabs on each other.</span>
“In my off time at Miami, I’d head home and catch Friday Night football in my hometown,” Benjamin recalled. “He always stuck out to me. And then when I got to Cleveland, I caught a few games at Akron and he still stuck out to me. He was the most dynamic player on the defensive side of the ball.”
At the same time, Brown continued to look up to his neighborhood idol.
“Seeing him do what he did every step of the way growing up, I always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he said. “Seeing what he does on the field and how he played in college. I always wanted to be like him because he was the guy from my neighborhood doing what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. We’ve always been close. I mean, even when he was in Cleveland, I was in Akron. So it’s been kind of cool.”
Fast forward four years, both players returned to Florida this offseason to prepare alongside one another for a fresh start.
Neither player had any idea that a new beginning eventually meant sharing the same locker room.
A highly coveted wideout on the open market, Benjamin was in Ft. Lauderdale preparing for his first season with the Chargers after inking a contract on the first day of free agency. Meanwhile, shocked to be snubbed without an invitation to the Scouting Combine, Brown joined him to prepare for the NFL Draft.
All along, the wideout had a dream that he’d somehow be able to play alongside Brown after all these years. Before the start of the fourth round, Benjamin sent out a tweet.
Benjamin fell asleep as the fifth round got under way, unaware that as he napped, his dream became a reality.
Waking up, he found out that the Bolts drafted Brown with the 175th overall pick in the fifth round.
“I was just watching the draft and he had been on my mind thinking it was crazy he was still available,” Benjamin said. “I just wanted to put it out there and let the guys know that he was still out there. I fell asleep, and when I woke up a guy from my neighborhood got to me and said, ‘Hey, the Chargers just took Jatavis!’ I was like, “Nah, you’ve got to be kidding?!’ Then I looked it up and the Chargers tweeted me some eyes. When it came true, it felt like a real blessing.”
The phone call to find out you’ve been drafted is one of the most memorable moments a player will ever experience. In the same instant Brown’s dream came true, it quickly registered that his other wish was also granted.
“Getting that phone call was a dream come true,” he said. “I was waiting on that call all day and I finally got it. I was so happy. And then to find out I’d been drafted to play with Travis, it was (incredible). Even before (he came to the Chargers), I thought he was going to stay in Cleveland and I’d have a chance to play for the Browns. Then when he left and went to San Diego, I went, ‘Oh man, I think I may go to Cleveland still and he’ll be gone to San Diego!’ But now we are both in San Diego, and it’s a dream come true.”
Brown’s excitement over joining the Bolts hasn’t subsided in the days since the draft ended. However, the realization of what it means to play with his childhood hero has taken on new meaning.
“I think it’s a blessing to have someone I already know and who is there for me. He’s someone who I grew up with and always (has my back). When I get in there next week, it’s going to be a moment I’ll never forget to put on that NFL jersey. And think it’s a blessing to go to a team with someone I know that means a lot to me already.”
There are numerous qualities that made Brown an attractive prospect, including his speed, versatility and natural playmaking ability. Still, there is one aspect of Brown’s game and personality that Benjamin thinks fans will love the most.
“Determination,” he said. “You are looking at a kid who is extremely hungry and knows he should have been a top linebacker taken in the draft. He’s got a point to prove. Once you get one of those types of guys on your team, the sky’s the limit.”