Facebook Twitter



It's Homecoming Week at East High: Out goes the red carpet, in come the alumni.

Returns are being heralded, but few to the degree of future alum Bernard Bendinger. Back on the field after a six-year hiatus, "Boo" has played an integral role in the resurgence of the Leopard football program - a win over Granite Friday will give East its first three-game winning streak in 21 years."He came in here without any real expectations. He just wanted to play football," says East coach Chris Georgelas. "And this kid can play. I know he'll just get better with experience."

However, the clock is ticking - Bendinger is a senior who gave up a skiing career and transferred schools to play one year of prep football.

"I just wore out on skiing. I wanted to come back to playing football," said Bendinger, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound backfield star, playing for the first time since sixth grade. "People have told me I should, and I guess it finally rubbed off."

And how. The rookie, who lists Henry Lusk of the University of Utah and professionals Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice as his favorite players, has taken the game by storm. He has scored six touchdowns in four games this season, including a 70-yard run in limited action against Ben Lomond last week. Prior to East's lopsided win over the Scots, Bendinger accounted for 39 percent of the Leopards' total offense.

"He just keeps answering the bell," said Georgelas.

Three games into the season, Bendinger was averaging 9.8 yards per rush (15 carries for 147 yards) and 14.3 yards per reception (11 for 157).

"If he keeps doing what he's doing, we'll be calling his number a lot," said Georgelas. "He's all-world. He has (NCAA) Division 1 capabilities."

The same can be said for Bendinger's abilities on the ski slopes. Earning a spot on the prestigious RowMark ski team at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's High School, he strived for higher levels of success as a slalom racer.

"I wanted to be a skier," Bendinger said. "There aren't many black people who ski in college, so that was a goal. I wanted to up the percentage."

Though difficult, Bendinger is at peace with the decision to change his focus from the mountains to the gridiron.

"We were surprised, but excited," said his father, Gary, a former football player. "We told him we'd support him in whatever he did. This was all his decision."

Saddened by his absence, officials at RHSM have formed a new allegiance.

"We're absolutely delighted he's doing so well," said Dave Hall, Dean of Activities at RHSM. "I've never been to an East High football game before, but I will because of Bernard. He's an exceptional athlete."

RHSM, a Class 2A school, doesn't have a football team so Bendinger had to find a program willing to take a chance on an inexperienced senior.

"It's the first time having a bad record has worked to my advantage," mused Georgelas, who is rebuilding a once-storied program - winners of just one game over the previous two seasons. "He's a big-time player."