[caption id="attachment_12263" align="aligncenter" width="300"]
Mikie Benton #31 of the Kentucky Wildcats breaks up a pass intended for Tavarres King #12 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)[/caption]
RUSSELLVILLE – Russellville High School didn’t have to go far to find its new football coach.
The school announced Friday in a press conference that Mikie Benton – a former Russellville star and player at the University of Kentucky – has been named the 15th head coach in program history, and just the fourth since 1976.
"My feelings are near and dear here, of course," Benton said. "Even when I was at UK, I was checking back and seeing how Russellville was doing. Now that I get to be the guy and put my handprint on it, I'm very excited."
Benton, who was a standout quarterback and safety at Russellville under John Myers, recently served as his former coach’s defensive coordinator, while also being an assistant the four years prior. Myers stepped down in December after spending 14 years at the helm to take a job with Glasgow Independent Schools.
Now, Benton has the opportunity to use what Myers taught him over the years and lead the Panthers into the future.
"Without John Myers -- he's the one who's got me into coaching," Benton said of his mentor. "When I moved back home and the old "pro football dream" died, the next thing was me coming out here and he really got me into coaching. I started coming a few days and next thing I know I'm at every game and every practice. I've definitely learned a lot from him and grateful for him."
As a senior in 2007, Benton passed for 852 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions, while rushing for 749 yards and 14 scores to lead Russellville to a 10-3 season and a trip to the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
Along with being a football star, Benton also excelled in track and field, while also playing basketball.
He won state championships in the 110-meter hurdles as a junior and senior, and finished second in the triple jump as a senior. Benton also finished fourth in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays his senior year to cap a well-decorated athletic career as a Panther.
"We have made a commitment to hire Russellville people to coach at Russellville," Athletic Director Kyle Yates said. "This year alone, we have hired alumni -- who are teachers in our system -- to coach baseball, softball, and now football. Coach Benton is another step in the direction that we want to head. Coach Benton embodies all of the best of what is Russellville. We are lucky to have a man of such high character lead our program."
With track scholarships to schools like Western Kentucky and Notre Dame, Benton chose to walk-on as a football player at Kentucky.
Arriving at UK in 2008, Benton made a name for himself over the course of his time in Lexington.
He transitioned from safety to cornerback and played on the scout team as a true freshman and redshirt freshman. Then, as a third-year sophomore in 2010, Benton mostly played on special teams.
Benton was again moved in 2011, this time back to safety, and worked his way into the starting lineup. He finished that season with 28 total tackles – 18 solo – before tallying 15 in his final season in 2012.
Russellville went 7-5 in 2017 and lost in the second round of the Class 1A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl.
"Being a head coach comes more steps, and it's all a learning process," said Benton. "I come in with open arms knowing things are gonna be a tad bit different. As far as the relationships being built, I'm already a step in the door there, so definitely just grateful for that."Senior writer Tyler Mansfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_TylerMansfield.