When senior Kurt Benkert was seven years old, his family packed up and left their Baltimore, Md. home, heading over a thousand miles south to Florida. Just a few years later, they did it all again. This time, they left sunny south Florida to head back to Baltimore, a move mandated by economic strain — a burden carried by the entire country as the United States approached a severe economic recession.
As the economy went down, the Benkerts went up north. In Maryland once more, they found refuge with relatives. They stayed until Benkert’s sophomore year of high school, when again they made for Fort Myers, Fla. But even there, Benkert didn’t stay at one school for too long.
Benkert played his junior year as a Seahawk at Cape Coral High School before transferring to the neighboring Island Coast High School to play with the Gators for his senior season. He graduated early from Island Coast in December 2012, and within a few weeks, he moved to Greenville, N.C. — home of the East Carolina Pirates, to start school and play in spring practice with his new teammates.
He was a Seahawk, then a Gator, then a Pirate — all within 16 months. Each program he passed through was a pit stop on his pursuit of football. Every program made him stronger, and every new challenge crafted him as a person and as a player.
Benkert is man who always weighs the costs of change with the benefits of new opportunities. Some changes he couldn’t control, but when it comes to his football career, many of them he can — and he does. He adjusts well to new challenges because, as his former ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill says, “he’s always ready for it, he’s done it time and again.”
Example A: Two seasons into his East Carolina tenure, the then-redshirt sophomore quarterback was finally slated to start in 2015. But in August, Benkert suffered a season-ending knee injury. His ACL was torn, as was McNeill from the Pirates’ program just months later. Suddenly, his football future was uncertain, as was the fate of East Carolina’s coaching staff.
A quarterback’s job is to maximize the chance of success for his team on each play. That’s what Benkert is best at. But with all the twists and turns of 2015, he realized East Carolina was no longer a place that would maximize his own chances for success.
And so, with a freshly repaired knee and a newly minted undergraduate degree, Benkert decided it was time to make another move. This time around, he would call Charlottesville home, but before he could settle in Central Virginia, he had one more thing to do — get married.
Benkert wed his high school sweetheart, Samantha Morreal, on July 2, 2016. For a man whose life has been defined by continuous change, Sam is his constant. She’s been by his side since they met in class in high school, and is now by his side in Charlottesville. McNeill remembers meeting Sam when he recruited Benkert, “she was right there with him — which was really cool.”
No matter where his future is, she will be too.
“He has always said he wants to do football until it’s not an option anymore, and that’s a drive that’s always been there since I met him,” Sam Benkert said. “It’s something that’s always been understood between us — that life was going to be football until it couldn’t be football anymore, and I couldn’t be happier to support him in that.”
Leaving East Carolina meant a new program and a new playbook. It meant a new town, new teammates and new academic challenges — but he was ready, as he always is, to embrace the unknowns that come with change. And he was ready to work hard enough to make it all happen — his work ethic is remarkable. He knows coming into something new that he has to prove himself, and so he does. He has a determination only seen in players of a certain caliber — McNeill will vouch for it.
His life had prepared him for uncertainty, and East Carolina had prepared him for the responsibilities and expectations that would come with joining the Cavaliers. With his wife by his side, Benkert was ready for the next chapter in his ever-changing story.
“[Benkert is] successful after he gets to a new place because he can really establish himself,” McNeill said. “He’s not only moved, but he has this ability to move and then to adapt and succeed, to really be successful.”
Sam, who had never moved in her life before moving to ECU to be with Benkert, reflected that coming to Charlottesville has been the best life change for both of them — a move made easier by Benkert’s calmness and confidence in his decision. With one season at Virginia under his belt, his graduate degree almost complete and his final fall season quickly approaching, Benkert’s biggest challenge now is maintaining the beautiful balance that makes life so sweet — and making sure he supports Sam as her future unfolds as well.
“Taking things day by day is how you get by,” Benkert said. “For me, [it’s] just going throughout each day and knocking down the things I have to do. If you look too far long term, even the span of a few weeks, [it] can be overwhelming, but that’s life.”
It’s the little things in life that keep Benkert sane. A date with his wife at Zinburger, a walk with his dogs, an afternoon of fishing or time with the team pastor — those are his moments to reflect and refocus.
“He just makes it seem effortless, I don’t know how. He makes all the things he does seem easy,” Sam said.