Former Trinity coach Jack Benson, ‘tough as nails but made you better,’ dies

Published 7:06 pm Saturday, March 30, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Jack Benson, a legend in high school and college sports in Natchez, has died.

Benson was a star center at Natchez High School, graduating in 1954, and went on to play football at Mississippi State University.

“Jack came here when he was a freshman in high school. His daddy was with International Paper Company and moved his family here from Spring Hill, Louisiana,” said Tony Byrne, who graduated with Benson from Natchez High School in 1954, and went on to Mississippi State with Benson and three other athletes from Natchez High from that class.

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“We played basketball outside at Natchez High, which is Margaret Martin now. Some of the guys wanted to test Jack and see how tough he was. What they didn’t know was that Jack was the Golden Glove Boxing Champion in Louisiana. Nobody knew that here. This senior wanted to test him. Jack hit him in the temple and knocked him out cold. We thought he was dead. Coach A.I. Rexinger was the football coach and he saw it and told Jack, ‘Boy, you’re coming out for football.’ Jack told him he didn’t play football. Coach Rexinger told him, ‘If you are going to go to this school, you are playing football.’”

And play football Benson did. He ended up at Mississippi State, where he made the All-SEC team.

“Jack was our center and we played in the Big 8 Conference. I was fortunate to play football one year, my senior year,” Byrne said.

He had been injured when he was a freshman and couldn’t play football.

“Though I shouldn’t have, I played my senior year and scored 32 touchdowns, which was a Big 8 Conference record. But you don’t score those by yourself. We had a play called 42 Trap, which went right over Jack Benson. He cleared the way, he and other blockers, and allowed me to score those touchdowns,” Byrne said.

Natchez High won the Big 8 Conference championship in 1953 and 1954, thanks in large part to the play of Jack Benson, Byrne said.

Benson then went on to Mississippi State where he played football. Byrne played basketball at State.

“While at State, not only was Jack a good football player, he had a tough reputation for cleaning out beer gardens with his fighting. It got to where when Jack came in, others left because he was going to start a fight. I went with him once and told him, Jack, you’re going to have to go by yourself from now on, because I’m a runner, not a fighter,” Byrne said.

After college, Benson entered the Army and served his country.

“That’s when he stopped all that fighting and started another kind of fighting, this time for his country. He fought in Vietnam and retired as colonel,” Byrne said.

Benson returned home to Natchez and started coaching at Trinity.

“Jack had been married and divorced when he returned to Natchez, and he met his wife, Peggy, on a blind date,” Byrne said. “He was one of my very best friends in high school, and after that, when he and Peggy got married.

“Anyone who played under him would tell you he was tough as nails but made you a better ball player. He did real well at Trinity,” he said.

Byrne will be a pallbearer at Benson’s funeral, although arrangements are incomplete at this time.

Adams County Sixth Circuit District Attorney Tim Cotton was a running back on the 1989 state championship Trinity Episcopal School football team, which was coached by Benson.

“It is always sad to hear of anyone’s passing, but the more important thing is remembering his life and what he left to the many young men who played for him. Coach Benson was a tough-minded individual, but treated everybody with the utmost respect,” Cotton said.

Doug Jordan, owner and vice president of Jordan Carriers, also played football at Trinity for Benson.

“Coach Benson not only meant the world to me, but to a lot of people he coached over the years. He probably taught us more about life and being tough and never quitting than he did winning ballgames,” Jordan said.

He said a remarkable number of players Benson coached and influenced have become successful adults and fathers.

“Coach Benson was one of the toughest human beings ever put on this planet, physically and mentally. As tough as he was, he was very caring. He put a lot of time into turning boys into young men who knew how to do the right things,” Jordan said.

Benson retired from coaching at Trinity before Patrick Mulhearn started playing football there in the ninth grade. Mulhearn, who lives in Baton Rouge, is the owner of Mulhearn and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in the development of content creation and entertainment industry growth. Also, in July 2023, Mulhearn founded the Louisiana Academy of Production, a proposed charter school opening in August 2025 in Baton Rouge.

Though he didn’t coach him in football, Benson did teach Mulhearn U.S. History at Trinity.

“He was the greatest person to teach it because he had served in Vietnam and lived through so much,” Mulhearn said. “It was a bit like having John Wayne and Coach Paul Bear Bryant rolled into one, telling us the story of America every day…He will be sorely missed by many.”