Jackson Bennett arrived at Kirkwood Community College with talent and aspirations to pitch for an NCAA Division-I program in a major conference.
Of course, the Dyersville Beckman all-stater also brought a good frame, zip to his fastball and a strong competitive streak with him.
His heart, determination and work ethic made him a versatile pitcher and team leader for the Eagles. They also helped transform his dream into reality. Bennett will continue his college baseball career at Michigan State University in the fall.
“It is a pretty cool accomplishment,” Bennett said Monday. “It impacts my family too and how much they’ve done for me. That is the best part, seeing how some of it paid off.”
Bennett finalized his decision in the fall, but faced an unusual and difficult dilemma this spring. With his sophomore season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a year of eligibility restored for spring sports college athletes, Bennett had the option of maintaining those plans or returning for one more run with his Kirkwood teammates.
The choice became clear when Eagles Coach Todd Rima echoed the advice from family.
“In the heat of the moment, when our season got canceled, I think everyone was like it would be awesome to go another year,” Bennett said. “You become brothers with those guys. I think it went through their heads.
“It took a little bit of time. When Coach Rima said the same thing as my parents, it was a no-brainer. I trust both of them like crazy.”
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Rima appreciated Bennett’s sentiment of wanting to come back, but this was the goal. He urged him to take advantage of the opportunity. At the very least, step back from the moment until the emotions from the lost season subside.
“He’s doing the right thing,” said Rima, who has a tremendous track record developing players into D-I competitors. “Every kid is different in these situations. For him, the best thing for him to do was to go on and have success playing Big Ten baseball.
“Your program is better with people like Jackson Bennett. For him, it was a no-brainer. You want him to reap the benefits of all his hard work. He’s earned it. It was time for him to move on.”
Bennett has been limited like many players during the pandemic. He resides in Farley and has worked out with former teammates, including Beckman and Kirkwood teammate Joel Vaske. Bennett has also ventured to Cascade to lift weights with the Simons, another baseball family from Dubuque County.
Bennett has been playing some for the Cascade Reds, a well-known semi-pro team in the Eastern Iowa Hawkeye League.
“I’ve been lucky for how much people like baseball around here,” said Bennett, who also praised the help and support from Beckman coaches. “They kind of help each other out, so it’s been nice.”
Michigan State coaches have remained in contact with him, including Zoom calls. Bennett said they have reached out about recent events and sent workouts to players, depending on what equipment they have available. The staff was a key attraction for Bennett.
“The coaches seemed like real genuine guys,” Bennett said. “The atmosphere is great. It’s very cool.
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“I’m pretty confident that the staff and pitching coach will help me improve a lot. A lot of it is being a competitor and wanting to face the best level I could. I think that will help me.”
Bennett appeared in 13 games, posting a 2-2 record with five saves and striking out 36 in just 30 innings pitched as a freshman. A minor injury kept Bennett out of the Eagles’ 10 contests this season. He was set to make his debut when the season was wiped out.
Strides were made between the two seasons. The biggest gains have been in his mental approach.
“I think that’s when I got to mature and understand the game a little more,” Bennett said. “I got to understand how much of an impact positive thinking and the mental side has on your overall game. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Rima has seen all-around improvement, taking a big step after his freshman campaign.
“In the summer, he really committed himself,” Rima said. “He got himself in the best shape of his life and that’s what we wanted to see from him. I was very proud of him to see what it takes to be a player that can pitch at that level and then commit himself. That was pretty neat to see.”
Bennett is one of six pitchers and 12 players overall in the Spartans’ incoming class. The 6-foot-4, 213-pounder has a fastball clocked in the low 90s with two more complementary pitches. Michigan State pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde said Bennett has the ability to make an immediate impact. Rima has similar expectations.
“We couldn’t be any more excited for Jackson,” Rima said. “His goal was always to play at a Power Five school and he gets to do that. I think he’s a guy that can step in right away.
“When we recruited him, that’s what he wanted. For it to work out for such a great kid, it makes us really proud and happy for him.”
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