CLEVELAND, Texas — A former University of Texas teammate who lost his spot on the team to Cedric Benson said the late Longhorns star helped him become a better man.

Teammates called Ivan Williams “toughy,” and Williams, who grew up in Cleveland, Texas, thought he would be the next great Longhorns tailback after Ricky Williams left in 1999.

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Then, a younger kid with dreadlocks from Midland named Cedric Benson snatched the job away and opened a soft spot that has Williams sitting behind the desk of a career he would not trade for anything.

“I really don’t think that could have happened with anybody else,” Williams said. “(Benson) always had a smile on his face.”

Benson felt entitled to nothing, Williams said.  That made it easier for Williams to become Benson’s blocker.

The two bonded like brothers, though Benson was always a “free spirit,” Williams said. People begged Benson to avoid riding motorcycles, but he did it anyway, according to Williams.

Last weekend, Benson, 36, and a passenger named Aamna Najam, 27 of Richmond, died in a motorcycle crash in Austin.

“I remember an incident in college (where) he hurt his shoulder riding a motorcycle,” Williams said. “So when I got the news (his death) was on a motorcycle, I was hurt, but I smiled at the same time because that was him living his life. He was free.”

Two college knee injuries forced Williams to think about his next move. He had no problem adjusting, he said.

“God had a plan for me, and it’s to be around young people, watch them grow just as I watched (Benson) grow,” Williams said.

Williams teaches 6th grade science at his old middle school. He relates nearly everything to sports. When it comes to helping kids face a challenge, memories of Benson will always come to mind, he said.