Rajaan's strength lives on

Nov. 10, 2012

Barca Brandon Barca (Archive)

Life's lessons.

Sometimes the message doesn't fully register until you realize what it must have been like to walk in another's shoes. Then it hits you right in the face.

Like Kyle Woestmann's dedication to honor another Commodore that never had the opportunity to don the black and gold.

Woestmann, a redshirt sophomore defensive end from Marietta, Ga., opened up a few chapters of his personal life Friday night as part of a ritual Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin does with his squad the night before every game to create stronger bonds between his family of 107.

Woestmann starts by making sure his teammates understand that he didn't have a difficult childhood. He says he came from the perfect family, and calls his mother "the nicest woman in the world" and his father "the man I want to be." Even with a solid foundation, Woestmann struggles with selfishness, both in football and life. His passion to be the best clouds his spirit at times.

Rajaan BennettBut the more Kyle's matured, the more he's realized that he can't always be in control. "Not everything's in your grasp. I wasn't even seeing the opportunities that I have," Woestmann confesses. "It's really helped me this year as a player and a person."

Woestmann's honesty and self-reflection is humbling. His journey, though, was completely different than Rajaan Bennett's. The oldest of three siblings, Bennett was forced to be the man of the household after his father died in a car accident when he was 10.

Woestmann and Bennett were in the same Commodore recruiting class, and played prep football only 20 miles apart just outside of Atlanta. They built a relationship on the recruiting trail.

The two never got to be teammates. Two weeks after signing a national letter of intent to attend Vanderbilt in February of 2010, Bennett was tragically murdered at the age of 18.

In front of a silent room, Woestmann unfolds a piece of paper from his pocket. In his hands is a copy of the essay Bennett wrote in his Multi-Cultural Literature class eight days before he was killed. Bennett's paper was titled "Strength." Woestmann recites every word to the group.

Bennett's touching piece focused on his drive to succeed, no matter how many roadblocks were in his way. "He has probably made me the person I am," Woestmann states. "You want to talk about a man. [Rajaan] was a man."

Woestmann uses Bennett's message every day. Woestmann strives to be the strongest in the weight room, the strongest on the football field, but most importantly, the strongest in life.

Woestmann, who unselfishly used his moment in front of the team to pay tribute to Bennett, had only one request for the room: use Bennett's strength.

"There's going to come a time where one of you is going to have to be the man and look after all of these brothers," Woestmann claims. "There's going to be a play where somebody's got to step up. You're going to be tired, and it's going to be hard, but you're going to have to push harder than everyone else. You're going to have to be that brother, that man, for everybody in this room. There's no limit to what you can do in life when you're strong."

Bennett would have turned 21 in October. His name won't appear on the roster card for Vanderbilt's game against Ole Miss Saturday. His name won't be called over the speakers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium either.

Yet know, Bennett's impact in the Commodore family runs much deeper than a football game.

(Photo Credit: Curtis Compton, AJC.com)

by Rajaan Bennett

Somebody once told me that, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Life hasn't been a walk in the park for me, but I'm thankful for the obstacles, hardships, and accomplishments that GOD has provided for me. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be the Rajaan Bennett that you know today. I wouldn't have things any other way.

Strength is the ability to do or bear things in the state of being strong.

In the year of 2000, I moved from the streets of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to the suburbs of Powder Springs, Georgia. A year later, my dad died in a horrible car wreck, and as a ten year-old, I knew he wasn't coming back. This tragedy rattled me to the core. I felt as if there was no need for me to live. I wanted to be as happy as the kids with dads and moms.

Some days I would wonder - why me? But eventually, I realized that it was my turn to become a man. As I became older, I came to notice that in life you use strength as a blanket to protect you from this cold world.

I am the oldest of 3 and I have a brother with special needs who I have to take care of. I have to balance school, sports, friends, and family - and it gets so hard, but I push myself. I push myself like a sprinter who is neck and neck with an opponent with 10 meters left. With the strength that I posses, I feel like I'm Hercules.

I matured faster than all of my friends - and there will never be a time that I will give up. I may complain, I may refuse, and I may even cry about it, but I know I have to do what I have to do.

I work hard at whatever I do - just for that man upstairs to smile down on me with the rays of the sun ...and they feel so warm. My drive cannot be stopped or even slowed down, because every obstacle has a way around it. Every day I become stronger from the weights physically, the books mentally, and life emotionally.

There is no limit to my strength and at the end of the day, I want to be known as the strongest.



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