Brotherhood, modeled


Junior Brady Bennett poses with junior Charlie VanGuilder and his parents after a game early in the 2022-23 season.

Cathryn Salis, sports editor

Stick a group of 80 guys in heavy pads on a hot field and tell them to run at and hit each other, for days on end, one would think animosity would grow. For Hamline’s Football team, that could not be further from the truth. Describing each other as brothers, the team is a close-knit group with a common goal, and they work hard together and for each other every day. 

In their 2022-23 season, the football team suffered multiple intense injuries, including sophomore quarterback Alejandro Villanueva with a collarbone break and a top running back out for most of the season. However, one player’s story stands out as a testament to the team’s culture of support and his drive to play the sport he loves. 

Junior Brady Bennett came to Hamline’s football program in the summer of 2020, having graduated from his high school during the COVID-19 lockdown. His first year, the team did not have a season with regular games. In the 2021-22 season, when Bennett was a sophomore, he was injured in the fall season and was out with a torn quad and dislocated knee. After having recovered, he was excited for a chance to finally play with the team he’s worked so hard with.

The 2022-23 season started with a win for Hamline over Crown College. Bennett had switched to defense and played against Crown and in their game against St. Scholastica, their third opponent of the year. In a practice leading up to their game against Bethel College, however, Bennett gave the team the scare of their lives. 

“I’ve been coaching football 20 years and… that was probably the scariest experience that I’ve had on a football field,” Head Football Coach Chip Taylor said.



On October 5, 2023, the football team was practicing on Klas Field, preparing for their upcoming game. Bennett was with a group practicing kickoff returns. One of Bennett’s very good friends, junior Charlie VanGuilder, was with them.

“I was actually on the field, only like five to ten yards away,” VanGuilder said.

Bennett was blocking, and the squib kick meant he had to turn around quicker than usual. He went to block the runner on the kickoff team, when he suddenly grabbed his back and fell face down onto the field. 

“I was like, oh crap, he got hit hard, that might hurt a little bit. Of course I thought it was a stinger but then I heard him say, ‘I can’t feel my legs,’” VanGuilder said.

Bennett had taken a knee to his back, which immediately fractured his L three vertebrae and sent his spinal cord into shock, paralyzing him from the waist down. 

“I just remember…my legs felt like when you fall asleep on your arm,” Bennett said. “Then I just remember grabbing my back was the first thing I did but not being able to move or feel was the next thing I felt. I was on the ground for a while, I was face-first for about 7 to 10 minutes and then they finally rolled me on my back. Then they realized the situation was a lot worse than they thought.”

While the rest of the team practiced and the trainers worked on Bennett, VanGuilder watched from afar and willed his best friend to stand.

“Coaches are telling us to practice and finally more guys stopped practicing and we all stopped and we were just waiting for him. We all waited for the ambulance. And then once they were able to get him safely onto the gurney and into the ambulance, we all just kind of sat there like, what just happened to our brother, our friend, our teammate,” VanGuilder said. 

On the other side of the field, Bennett was in shock. Having experienced a more minor spinal shock in high school, the intensity of this one was jarring. 

“The only question I was being asked the whole time was, can you feel this? And it was always no,” Bennett said. “That’s the only thing it seemed like I was being asked, and to breathe. ‘Can you breathe?’”

Two trainers were able to go to the hospital with Bennett, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, that was the most company he was afforded. The team watched the ambulance pull away, returned to practice for a little bit, but ultimately ended practice early that evening. 

“That night, it didn’t feel real,” VanGuilder said. “I never thought I would be in that type of moment, to have a friend go down and not be able to get up.”



Thankfully, Bennett did get back up. After the doctors were able to run all the appropriate tests, Bennett was told he would definitely make a full recovery before the first night was over. 

“Once they told me, ‘hey, you’re gonna be fine, you just got hit in the right place at the right time, you’re going to be just fine.’ Once I was told that, and once I was able to feel my legs and everything, and start to walk again, I felt pretty good,” Bennett said.

Bennett ended up spending eight days in the hospital, resting until he was strong enough to get up and down stairs with a walker or crutches, but on his own. Those eight days were not easy for Bennett, but his team helped him through it. 

“There really wasn’t a day that my teammates weren’t coming to visit me. I was at least having a teammate and a coach come see me or it was two teammates coming to see me, spread throughout the day,” Bennett said. “As much as I would have wanted two guys to come see me at once, I said I would rather have one person come to kind of spread it out because it gets very lonely in there.”

Once home, his roommates ensured that he was being checked in on and taken care of. 

“I definitely leaned on my rommates a lot,” Bennett said. “They were all really helpful and everything, made sure I was okay and kept me upbeat and everything. Food, they always gave me food and everything, even in the hospital, all my teammates when they came to visit me made sure I was fed.”



Coming out of a debilitating injury takes time, and there were questions if Bennett should even continue to play, but his support system kept him grounded.

“There was really big debate whether I would go home, quit football in general and go home back to Idaho and what made that decision really hard was my teammates, in a good way,” Bennett said. 

The football team, like many Hamline teams, have consistent lifts and practices throughout the year, not only in season, and the players spend much of their time together. 

“I’m with 60-plus guys every single day throughout the year. I see them every single day, so it’s weird when you don’t see them,” Bennett said.

This injury, however, did have some doctors advising against returning to play. The body keeps the score, and sometimes athletes do not realize how much their bodies have suffered until later in adulthood.

“With an injury like this, and this happened twice, football is just football. It really is. And I don’t want to be in my 30s or 35s and not able to get up or have back problems and everything,” Bennett said. 

As of the writing of this article, Bennett is still not cleared to play by his doctors, but is hopeful that he will be in time to play some spring ball and start in the summer.

“I’m taking another risk of continuing to play football because I love being around the guys. And I know they say you don’t have to play football to be around the guys, but there’s a difference between sitting on the sideline with my friends and then actually going in and putting in the work with my teammates and my brothers,” Bennett said. 

Bennett has been lifting, first with lots of caution and now with hardly any, and working to prepare for next season. The team and his coaches are excited with his recovery and impressed with the progress he has made.

“I was actually in the room watching the doctors grab his leg, say, ‘can you feel this,’ ‘can you feel that,’ so that was interesting,” Taylor said. “And when he got out, I remember him with a walker… until transitioning to not walk with a walker then transitioning to watching him back in the weight room was like, ‘holy smokes, this dude is in the weight room,’ and doing things that you’re so glad he’s able to do.”

Bennett has two seasons of eligibility left and is looking forward to playing defense with VanGuilder and his teammates. During his scary injury and long recovery journey, his team was there with him to get him through it, and are ready to play with him next season.

“That day was hard, but whenever I got the chance to talk to one of the guys, on the phone or texting, the guys, they made it bearable,” Bennett said. “They’re all great, I appreciate everyone and what they did for me, and what they’re still doing for me today.”