Benton returns home for the love of the game

dj benton

Athlete makes soccer his own passion at UAB

Massimo Nuzzo
Sports Reporter

 DJ Benton was born and raised in Birmingham, where he began playing soccer at a young age.  

“I played because my dad played,” Benton said. “He played in Europe and he played around the country here. I fell in love with the game after a while.”  

Benton spent time with Hoover Soccer Club and Vestavia Hills Soccer Club during his development growing up. Additionally, he played for Alabama’s Olympic Development Program in 2015.  

Benton quickly became one of the state’s best talents, however, at this time Birmingham had yet to enter the increasingly popular soccer market in the south.  

“I was one of the better kids in the state as time went by, but I realized if I wanted to reach that next level I had to get out of Birmingham,” Benton said.  

To get to that next step, Benton joined Atlanta United’s academy team. There he was able to receive a higher level of training, while also playing alongside some of the best youth talents the United States had to offer. Andrew Carleton and George Bello are just some of the names that Benton practiced with on a daily basis.  

“There was definitely an adjusting period, I was good enough to be with those guys," he said. "I still wasn’t quite on their level at the time. I picked up a lot from them. Eventually, I took them off of this pedestal and saw myself in the same light after I started to become better and better… It was cool being with them.”  

Atlanta United’s academy is where Benton was really able to grow as a player, but with various changes happening within the club, he and his parents decided he would move to Houston Dynamo’s academy in 2017.  With the Dynamo, Benton captained the academy team and was able to further his growth as a player. Of the 26 games he played with the Dynamo, he started 22. After a successful season in Texas, Benton signed with UAB to further not only his soccer career but his educational career as well.  

Benton said his move back to Alabama was motivated by his relationship to UAB’s former soccer coach. 

“What pushed me to come here was I already had a great relationship with him [former head coach Mike Getman] and financially was a big part of it too,” Benton said. 

With his experience in professional environments allowing for an easy transition into the college game, he was able to quickly find a place in UAB’s starting 11.  Benton plays as a midfielder. He said he would compare his play-style Steven Nzonzi, French midfielder. Standing at 6’1 ft, Benton combines his physicality and athleticism with excellent skill on the ball.  This allows him to not only be a physical presence in the midfield but also dictate the tempo of his team’s play going forward.  With the Blazers under a new head coach in Jeff Kinney, Benton said the new tactics he is implementing will help the team moving forward. 

“He has this ideology to get our more skillful, athletic players out wide and in the higher points of the field,” Benton said. “He believes that’s where we will really hurt people. I think our style of play will be, right now, keeping possession of the ball but knowing when to attack and just get the ball into wide areas.” 

Benton his expectation for the future is to his teammates.  “I expect big things,” Benton said. “Like Chandler [Shirley] said, we aim for the stars. So I’m going to say national championship as well. That’s our goal no matter what.”