San Jose State product Bené Benwikere was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round (No. 148 overall) of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder is a versatile cornerback capable of playing nickel, safety and special teams and is looking forward to fighting to earn playing time with one of the league's top defenses.
"I just want to come in and get to work," Benwikere said in a conference call with Panthers reporters. "I'm blessed with the opportunity so I just want to show to them that I'm qualified to be on the team and help out in any way."
Benwikere said Steve Wilks, the Panthers' secondary/passing defense coordinator, and head coach Ron Rivera made a visit to meet with him.
"Coach Wilks explained a few defenses and gave me a test afterwards and I was able to explain things back to him," Benwikere said.
Benwikere tied a school record with 14 career interceptions, with 12 coming during his final two seasons. He earned the nickname "Big Play Bené" during his senior year in which he proved to be a big-time playmaker. He had a pair of defensive touchdowns as well as a critical blocked punt for a safety in the Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green.
When asked about his strengths, Benwikere said, "Making plays on the ball. I'm definitely an athlete that can catch the ball. I'm very, very smart, intelligent. I have a lot of versatility and I'm going to make plays for you."
Benwikere became a full-time starter midway through the 2012 campaign and was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference pick that year with seven interceptions, including three against Louisiana Tech and conference offensive player of the year Colby Cameron.
Benwikere had five more interceptions during his senior year and was a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection.
He had plenty of opportunities to perfect his craft during his high school days at Serra High-Gardena when he was teammates with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Paul Richardson. Woods was a 2013 second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills. Lee went in the second round of this draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Richardson was a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks. Serra also produced Duke Ihenacho, a San Jose State product who was a starting safety this season for the Denver Broncos.
Benwikere is the 12th defensive back in school history to be drafted and fourth since 2008, joining Dwight Lowery, Coye Francies and Benwikere's cousin Christopher Owens. Ihenacho and Peyton Thompson have also made it to the league as undrafted free agents.