Through the first six games of his college career, Jaelin Benefield has taken on a heavy workload for the Eastern Illinois football team.

The true freshman from the Houston suburb of Pearland, Tex., is the team's leading rusher (52 carries, 185 yards), most productive receiver (29 catches, 199 yards) busiest kick returner (six returns for 84 yards) and top scorer with three touchdowns.

Despite all that work, Benefield wouldn't mind doing more for EIU (0-6), which hosts 17-ranked Jacksonville State on Saturday.

"I'm not going to lie," Benefield said. "I'm used to a lot more touches."

As a high school senior, he rushed for 121 yards a game and scored 16 touchdowns for a 10-1 team. He knows that most college freshman don't get the opportunity he has earned this year.

"As a true freshman, it's a blessing just to play," he said. "Just being able to play and contribute any way I can (is rewarding)."

Thanks to his speed and elusiveness, the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Benefield is turning heads and reminding some EIU supporters of former Panther running back Devin Church, who led the team in rushing and receiving in 2015 and 2016.

"The kid is just a stud," Eastern quarterback Harry Woodbery said. "He's super fast. He's got great spatial awareness and balance. He may not be the biggest guy, but when he gets hit, he has a great way of finding his feet and moving the ball forward a little bit more."

Benefield's versatility has allowed Panthers first-year coach Adam Cushing to use him all over the field.

"What we're trying to do is just create mismatches with him," Cushing said. "You can do lots of different things. I couldn't be more pleased with what Jaelin is doing for us."

As Eastern's offense has steadily improved this season, Benefield has created more pages in the playbook. Cushing said EIU can use Benefield in one- and two-back formations, in space and in motion.

"Everything about what he does stems from his mentality," Cushing said. "He practices with tenacity. He expects to score every time he has the ball in his hands. He doesn't allow himself less than that. He's a tremendous competitor."

After scoring a combined 19 points in the first four games, EIU has averaged 23 points in a pair of Ohio Valley Conference losses the past two weeks.

"We've seen a lot of improvement," Benefield said. "This is only the beginning. We've showed that if we don't beat ourselves, there's a lot more to come."

What Benefield and the Panthers want to come next are some wins. The team is off to its first 0-6 start since 2010.

What would that first victory of Cushing's tenure mean?

"It would show us we know how to win," Benefield said. "We're so close."

With a combined 50 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster, Benefield said the players' previous successes eventually will pay dividends.

"We have a lot of people who came in who are used to winning," he said. "I lost only a handful of games my whole time in high school, and I'm not the only one. We don't like the feeling of losing."

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