By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Natchitoches Parish Journal
Faith. Prayer. Divine intervention.
And, the willingness of a young man to overcome and conquer his circumstances.
St. Mary’s senior tight end/linebacker Ben Bienvenu has established a path back to the prep gridiron that includes the above. Through much pain, heart ache, emotional and physical struggle, and exhaustive work, that road back has been nothing short of a miracle.
Less than a year after a major vehicular crash that could have claimed his life, let along his athletic playing career, Bienvenu has returned to the football field to contribute heavily to this Tiger team. And he has served as an example to those who have been knocked down. His message — get up and fight back.
Bienvenu’s return to the football field was emotional in the Tigers’ season opener and since. It will be so again tonight at Turpin Stadium as St. Mary’s kicks off in the state playoffs’ second round.
The multisport athlete was involved in a no-fault major car collision on Oct. 15, 2022 and transported immediately to a trauma unit. After spending four painstaking days in ICU followed by months of physical therapy, individual workouts, and watching his “boys” from the bench, he has returned to pigskin glory days and is thankful for life’s second chances.
“God humbled me and I know that I need Him more than ever before,” Bienvenu began. “I am more thankful now for what I have and I am definitely stronger in my faith. It was all just so surreal to me. When I woke up (following the crash) I really didn’t know what was going on. But, with everyone visiting, the pain hits, and then came reality.”
A tough road ensued for the SMS standout athlete. A young man from a large family of prep and college talent began the most difficult journey back to the sport he so dearly loves. From walking laps in his neighborhood in a neck brace to prayers with coaches, and even a spiritual moment experienced next to a local pond where two tall trees “made into a perfect cross” in the reflection of the water, Bienvenu was never promised to continue his playing career by his most experienced physicians. But on a day where great news was not expected, Bienvenu, who had participated in varsity basketball briefly, was cleared in May of this year to play football again.
“It was the worst day of our lives when we got the news about the crash,” his father Russell said. “I have been most proud of him by the way he persevered through much pain and helplessness. I am just so proud of the way he was able to process what happened to him and keep his faith through the healing process. Whatever that meant, whether he would ever participate in athletics again or not, we were just hoping for him to return to a normal life.”
When the news came of his medical approval to return to the field, Russell and Ben made a five-hour trip the very next day to attend a football camp five hours away at Harding University in Arkansas. Since that time, and during his senior season, the offers to continue his football career at the collegiate level have come rolling in from Harding, Henderson State, Southern Arkansas, Louisiana Christian, ULL, ULM, and NSU. Visits to McNeese, Lamar and Nichols State are also in the works.
Returning to the field for his final season, through just nine games played to conclude the regular season, Bienvenu has posted most impressive statistics. Infrequently coming off the field, he has snared 22 receptions for 496 yards and seven TDs from the tight end position while rushing for 102 yards and three scores as a slot back. On defense, the Tiger has 75 tackles, seven for losses with 1 quarterback sack. In addition, he has recorded two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
“There is no doubt, we are a much better team with him than without him,” SMS head coach Aaron York said about the Tiger senior. “His leadership on the field, in the school and in the weightroom says tons about him.
“Just look at what he has done on Friday nights. He is one of the best linebackers in the state. He is a better player and this has been a way to teach him not to take things for granted. I hope that is a lesson for all of us, our team and our school, to learn from and that God has blessed him. Not everyone gets second opportunities.”
A young man who dearly loves playing his sport under the Friday night lights, he said, “I love those lights. It has been a huge blessing for me to return to play with my teammates. I know now what its like to be down and out and not know what your future will be. I now yearn for that hard work that goes into being part of a successful team. I just enjoy playing the sport that I love with my guys.”
Bienvenu’s story is proof that miracles happen today. That story will continue on a much larger scale in his future.