Baylor Football

Trials and adversity shaped Ricardo Benitez into a Baylor Bear

June 7, 2018
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Story written by Antonia Rodriguez. Find her on Twitter: @the_other_ARod


For most kids in Texas, playing sports is an outlet and football is king. Hot summer days are spent sweltering in two-a-days and in the fall football stadiums across the state are packed. In high school, the Homecoming Football game is practically a holiday and College Football Saturdays are national events that begin with tailgating.

For wide receiver Ricardo Benitez, football is a calling, a community, and a platform. 

“It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than just myself,” said Ricardo. “I don’t feel like I’m different than anyone else when I play football.”

Ricardo is a special kind of wide receiver. Born without femurs, a condition called Femur Hypoplasia Bilateral, he stands at 4-feet-2-inches and just finished playing his senior year at Plano West High School in Plano, Texas.

Adamant on playing football from a young age, Benitez knew that there would be obstacles in his way on the road to getting on the field, much less having success. 

“I saw everyone else playing football and I didn’t know why I couldn’t be just like them,” said Ricardo. His parents have been nothing but supportive from the beginning.

“They were all on board,” said Ricardo. “They weren’t going to tell me no. I think the whole world was going to [tell me no] and they weren’t going to assist with that. They definitely didn’t raise me as a kid with a physical disability. There was a lot of tough love.”

Ricardo is all too familiar with the feeling of rejection. He remembers a pee-wee football coach telling him that the “pads were too small” as an excuse for him not to play. He remembers going from pediatrician to pediatrician in hopes of getting medically cleared. Again and again, Ricardo and his family were told “no.”

Until lucky pediatrician No. 7, a doctor at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, finally gave him the ok to play.

“That was the first time I’d been told yes,” Ricardo said, with a reminiscent smile on his face. However, just because he had the all clear from his doctor, Benitez still had to convince coaches of his abilities.

“At first, they were a little skeptical,” said Ricardo. Nevertheless, he persisted, and, over time, his middle school and high school coaches adapted to his unwavering presence on the field.

Plano West High School Head Coach Scott Smith has had a major role in Ricardo’s role on the field. 

“At first, I don’t think he knew how much I wanted to play,” said Ricardo. “But he never talked down to me. He’s always been super supportive. Our relationship is really strong and we both have each other’s back.”

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Receivers Coach Cory Sims started at Plano West Ricardo’s senior year but their relationship caught like wildfire.

“He didn’t treat me different from the rest of the guys. It was an immediate impact.”

Although the coaches at Plano West have been true milestones in Ricardo’s journey, he said that Coach Francis Brown at Baylor University is one of a kind. 

“I think, with Baylor, it was the first time a coach was like, ‘Hey, we want you here,” said Ricardo.

He first met Brown at a Baylor football camp last summer and Brown reached out to him in January of 2018. In reality, Ricardo appeared on Baylor’s radar and not the other way around. 

“Coach Brown called me on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and we had a good conversation,” Ricardo remembers. “He urged me to apply and said he’d reach back out when I got accepted. But he didn’t really say if I’d be playing or not. I didn’t want to be a waterboy."

Ricardo also considered Texas Tech and Lamar, two other four-year universities where he was accepted academically, but he was unwavering in his want and need to play football in college.

“I figured I could try and walk-on,” said Ricardo. “But it wouldn’t be a guaranteed thing and I wasn’t going to go if it [playing] wasn’t guaranteed. I also considered going to a junior college and transferring after two years. I just wanted to play.”

The three months from January to April waiting for his acceptance letter, Ricardo said, were a test of patience and incredibly frustrating. He announced his commitment to Baylor on April 20, 201, the day before Baylor’s spring game. 

With Ricardo’s next chapter now officially at Baylor University, he is eager to arrive, and make his own mark on the team and in the classroom. He wants to continue changing the narrative on campus and make a lasting positive impression.

“I can’t speak to what has happened on campus within the last couple of years because I wasn’t there and it wouldn’t be appropriate,” Ricardo commented. “All I can do is lead by example, be the hardest worker there, and continue to be a light for others in the classroom and on the field. Baylor shouldn’t be remembered for those negative things but rather for a great campus, a great community and great people there. Things are going to change. There is going to be positive light shed; it’s already happening now and I can’t want to be a part of it.”

Following the story of Shaquem Griffin, Ricardo Benitez is yet another football player who has overcome adversity to get to this level of playing the game they share a love for. Benitez, like Griffin, wants to encourage other players who play with physical disabilities. 

“You can’t listen to anyone who tells you no,” stresses Ricardo. “At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself. There are times when I wanted to quit football, or I’d ask myself if I was playing football for the right reasons. I’d ask if this was really worth it.”

Ricardo pointed out that real hard work happens when no one is watching.

“Even after my senior year ended, these past six months, I’ve been working out and staying in shape,” Ricardo said. “Your work will be rewarded. Just keep believing in yourself, in your faith, and know that no one can tell you no."

Ricardo is grateful for the opportunities that the game of football has afforded him. Though truly loves the sport, he doesn’t want to be remembered for just playing football. He plans on majoring in Kinesiology and would love to coach football one day, perhaps at Baylor. 

“Football is my platform,” Ricardo said. ”It’s my platform to speak about God. It’s my platform to just be that light and to help other kids with physical disabilities. That’s why I continue to play; I don’t play for just me. It’s a bigger reason. Football isn’t going to last forever. It’s not who I am; it’s just what I do. My identity is not in that [football]; it’s in something higher. I want to be know as someone who defied the odds; as someone who fought through the odds…and won.”

In the fall, Ricardo will officially become part of the Baylor community where green and gold streak McLane Stadium on Saturdays and football and religion are one and the same. He will make an impact on the people around him by playing the game that he, and so many others, love. 

Discussion from...

Trials and adversity shaped Ricardo Benitez into a Baylor Bear

Brian Ethridge
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BaylorGrad&Dad
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This is the kind of young man we need on the Baylor campus, and I'm proud to have him as a Bear!
Russell Gym
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Sic 'Em, Ricardo!
Ashley Hodge
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Grizz Air
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Cool! I had no idea this guy was coming here. Would be cool to see him catch some passes.
BUbearinARK
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