When he’s not playing sports for Nottingham High School, senior Robbie Bennett works at Risoldi’s supermarket in Mercerville. It should come as no surprise that he is a cashier, since Bennett is looking toward a professional career predicated on “Show me the money.”
He is headed for Hampton University in Virginia and is considering the five-year master’s program for business administration.
“I want to be a sports agent,” he said.
When reminded people blame sports agents for escalating ticket prices, he laughed.
“I know, I know, but I don’t care,” he said. “I want to do something I’ll enjoy doing.”
Along with getting his 20 percent?
“Yeah I just want my cut,” he said with another chuckle. “But really, I like meeting new people and I think with that I’ll be able to network a lot too. I like to be able to talk to a whole bunch of people and learn new things. Meeting new people will teach me a whole bunch of new things.”
When college starts, athletics end for Bennett, which is unfortunate. He has quietly been one of Nottingham’s steadiest athletes over the past several years but got lost in the shuffle of bigger things. He has played varsity football and baseball since his sophomore year. During that time, the Northstars basketball team won a state championship, the football team featured a record-setting rusher and the baseball team had a slew of college players in the class in front of him.
But Bennett has made his own little niche during that time.
Although he did not hit for a high average his first two years in baseball, he was a steady outfielder and a valuable pinch-runner. This past fall, he had 26 tackles, four interceptions and four pass deflections as a cornerback. Once the season ended, he was coach Jon Adams’ nominee for Nottingham’s representative at the George Wah Scholar-Leader-Athlete Dinner sponsored by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Football Foundation. This spring he has been the baseball team’s most pleasant surprise, having emerged as Nottingham’s top pitcher through the start of the season.
It is his first season as a varsity hurler after pitching 1.2 innings as a junior. On April 16, he fired a complete-game, three-hitter in a 1-0 win over Princeton. On April 27, he allowed just two hits in a complete-game effort against Hamilton West. He has been the go-to guy for the Northstars, leading the team in innings pitched.
“We’ve had some injuries and he stepped up,” coach Jim Maher said. “He’s been our number one, he pitched a great game against Notre Dame and lost 1-0. He pitched a tremendous game against Princeton. He’s kept us in every game.”
Bennett pitched fairly extensively for HTRBA in little league, but did not throw in Babe Ruth and was behind a bevy of good pitchers his first two years with Nottingham, including Nick Houghton (now at Monmouth).
“I really didn’t have much experience,” Bennett said. “Maybe one or two games last year that didn’t mean anything. I know I’ve been behind a lot of good guys, some D-I guys, and I just had to wait my turn so I’ve just played outfield. This year I really had to take on a role. I was excited because I’ve been kind of waiting until I really got my chance.”
Football/baseball teammate Wyatt Baker, who has been friends with Bennett since their T-ball days, has not been surprised at his buddy’s arm.
“It’s been amazing, he’s really improved a lot,” Baker said. “It’s been hard for him to get in because we had Nick Houghton and all those strikeouts. This year they kind of thought we’d be down on pitching. But he has been really great to play with. I knew he had it in him. It didn’t surprise me at all. He’s got a great curveball, his fastball is great, he hits his spot all the time.”
Despite the fact Nottingham has lost more than it’s won for the first time in Bennett’s career, he is enjoying this season as much as any while playing with Baker and another long-time friend, Logan Barber.
“I grew up with both of them playing football and baseball,” he said. “We just end up having a great time playing together. And maybe this year I have more of an impact and I can lead the team a little more with them because we’re the oldest on the team. We don’t have a choice, we have to step up to that goal.”
He has certainly stepped up on the mound. Asked what he was expecting from Bennett, Maher admitted, “We really didn’t know.”
“We always know when he threw bullpen he had a great curveball,” the coach said. “Last year, the couple times we used him he struggled a little bit. This year it’s all seemed to work. He threw well in the preseason. Last year he struggled with the curveball a little bit, this year he didn’t. His fastball’s been good. He competes. He’s a good football player. He’s the type of kid you want on the mound. He’s a leader. Just an all-around good kid.”
He was good enough in football to draw interest from Division II and Division III programs, but had enough self-awareness to realize his commitment may not have been there.
“For college sports you gotta really know you want to play,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure, and I know if you’re not 100 percent sure; it’s not for you. It’s tough. So if I’m not sure; then I’m not doing it. I gotta focus on academics.”
And focus, he does. Bennett has a 4.1 grade point average and is a member of the English and Spanish National Honor Society. At Nottingham, he is involved with Outreach for the Stars (which collects food and clothing and fundraises for needy families), Dunamis No Limit community service, Peer Leadership and Special Olympics football. He served as a speaker and participant in the school’s Black History Month and Spanish History Month.
He was named one of the Northstars Unsung Heroes at the 12th Man TD Club, and Adams could not nominate him for the Wah scholarship award fast enough.
“The thing that impresses me most about Robbie is his work ethic,” Adams said. “He keeps working hard no matter what the situation. This young man never missed a practice. He motivated, encouraged and even taught our younger players. He is a young man with impeccable character. He has a strong set of values he learned from his wonderful mother. His character has never been a question. I am very proud of the man that he is becoming. Robbie Bennett is a winner.”
Adams isn’t the only coach who feels that way.
“He’s a great kid, a great student,” Maher said. “His mom’s done a great job with him. Let’s put it this way. He’s not one of the ones I worry about.”