College News & Analysis

Trey Benson and Johnny Wilson hit rock bottom. Now they have a chance to reach college football's peak.

• Florida State running back Trey Benson and wide receiver Johnny Wilson sit down for an exclusive interview with PFF.

• Two of the best in the country at their positions: Wilson is a first-round receiver on PFF’s 2024 NFL Draft big board, and Benson is the top running back prospect.

• Climbing the mountain: After dealing with earlier hardships in their careers, Benson and Wilson can help lead Florida State to glory this season.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes


Florida State running back Trey Benson and wide receiver Johnny Wilson are both top-10 players at their respective positions and each is among the top 35 prospects on PFF’s 2024 NFL Draft big board. Before they reached superstar status, though, the two went through some of the most difficult periods of their lives.

Benson’s hardship came on Dec. 1, 2020, when he was a freshman running back at Oregon. While on the scout team during practice, he made a cut to break away from a linebacker.


“I couldn’t believe it,” he said in an exclusive interview with PFF.

Benson tore his ACL, MCL, lateral meniscus, medial meniscus and gracilis tendon (hamstring). Following a lengthy recovery, he played just 14 snaps in 2021 before deciding to enter the transfer portal.

He was joined there by Johnny Wilson, who was having issues of his own. Despite being a four-star recruit, Wilson had tallied just 12 catches for 148 yards across his first two seasons at Arizona State.

“I felt like I had a lot more to offer than what I was allowed to give at ASU,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t on the same page with a lot of my teammates and coaches as far as where I lay in the offense. Not necessarily just me wanting to get the ball, but it’s like, you want to be involved.”

Suffice to say, Wilson wasn’t drowning in transfer offers while searching for a new home.

“Entering the portal, I didn’t think it was only going to be one school that wanted me,” Wilson said. “Going from a high school four-star with 50 college offers to entering the portal and having just one. It’s like you’re back at the bottom of the barrel again.

“I reached out to a couple schools. Coach [Mike] Norvell was the only one to reach back out to me. [I went there because] one, that was really my only opportunity. Two, it was my only opportunity. I’m going to take it and make the most out of it. I really didn’t have too many options. He could’ve said, ‘You might not ever play here’ and I still would’ve come because that was the position I was in.”

Benson was dealing with a similar problem.

“Nobody wanted us,” he said. “All we wanted was an opportunity to shine.”

They each got that opportunity with the Seminoles last season, becoming the top players at their respective positions for Florida State. However, Benson still wasn’t fully sure of himself after his major knee injury.

“Before every game, I used to call my mom and she’d calm me down because I was so nervous,” he said. “I didn’t want to fail. I wasn’t confident in my game. I don’t know why, I couldn’t tell you that. I was just nervous.”

Finally, Wilson sat Benson down to instill some trust in himself.

“I told him one game last year, ‘Bro, just run. They don’t want to tackle you.’”

They certainly didn’t. Benson set the single-season PFF record for forced missed tackle rate in 2022. His 79 forced missed tackles trailed only Bijan Robinson and Chase Brown among Power Five running backs, who each received over 100 more carries than Benson.

Highest Single-Season Forced Missed Tackle Rate | FBS RBs in PFF College Era (Since 2014)*
Name School Season Forced Missed Tackle Rate
Trey Benson Florida State 2022 51%
Javonte Williams North Carolina 2020 48%
Travis Etienne Clemson 2019 44%

*Minimum of 100 attempts

When asked what it is about his game that allows him to look like college football’s version of Marshawn Lynch, he laughed.

“I get asked this question a lot,” he said. “I really don’t know. I guess I just have great balance and the will to not go down and just keep running angry, keep running hard. I’ve just been blessed with that ability.”

As for the “Beast Mode” comparison, Benson has another legendary running back he models his game after.

“Adrian Peterson,” he said. “When I was growing up, I used to watch him all the time.”

Peterson also tore his ACL and MCL at one point in his career. And like Benson, it only made him stronger. The very next season, Peterson won the NFL’s MVP award, the last non-quarterback to take home the honor. Looking back, Benson is surprisingly grateful for his major knee injury.

“It made me appreciate my lows,” he said. “I wouldn’t appreciate my success right now if that didn’t happen.”

As for Wilson, he went from an underutilized receiver at Arizona State to one of college football's most relied-on weapons at Florida State. In 2022, the redshirt sophomore led all Power Five receivers in yards per route run.

Most Yards Per Route Run | Power Five Receivers in 2022*
Name School Yards per route run
Johnny Wilson Florida State 3.36
Jalin Hyatt Tennessee 3.27
Trey Palmer Nebraska 3.26
Marvin Harrison Jr. Ohio State 3.18
Quentin Johnston TCU 3.05
Emeka Egbuka Ohio State 3.01

*Minimum of 150 receiving snaps

At 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, Wilson has the body of an NBA small forward. Unsurprisingly, that size allows him to sky over smaller defensive backs, as he hauled in 12 contested catches last year.

“It’s like, ‘Dude if you’re not my height, there should be no chance,’” Wilson said. “That’s how I look at it every time I go out there.”

“He’s like a create-a-player on Madden,” Benson said.

After a 10-win season in 2022, the Seminoles have their sights on even more this time around. For good reason, too, as the team returns most of its production from last season. In addition to Wilson and Benson, Florida State brings back a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Jordan Travis and one of the best defensive players in the country in edge defender Jared Verse.

That’s not even mentioning the stars the Seminoles added in the transfer portal, such as wide receiver Keon Coleman, tight end Jaheim Bell, cornerback Fentrell Cypress II, interior defensive lineman Braden Fiske and offensive tackle Jeremiah Byers. With one of the most loaded rosters in college football, Florida State is a legitimate candidate to win the ACC and make the College Football Playoff this season. Wilson and Benson would take it even further.

“I came back for a national championship,” Wilson said. “Everyone’s on ACC first, I play for it all. Genuinely speaking, go look at every other team in the country. They’re not us. They don’t have the guys that we got. They don’t have the coaching that we have. They don’t live by the same standard that we do. Championship or nothing.

“This team has the potential to be one of the greatest teams here at Florida State ever. I really see us being that and reaching our goals of a national championship and ACC championship. We can’t lose a game this year. We have the potential to win every single game this year, no doubt.”

“We’re capable of winning it all,” Benson said. “We put in the work every day, we deserve it. It’s going to be scary.”

The journey to that national title begins in Orlando this Sunday in one of the biggest games of the year. No. 8 Florida State faces No. 6 LSU, a rematch of the Seminoles’ thrilling 24-23 victory over the Tigers last year.

“I can’t wait,” Wilson said. “It’s a big game because we’re in it. We want to be 2-0 against these guys.”

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