Q&A: Louisville center Mario Benavides

I had a chance to catch up with Louisville center Mario Benavides, who is finally healthy for the Cardinals after missing the first three games of the season with a serious infection in his right ankle. I asked Benavides about the improvement on the offensive line, and what he went through when he had to sit on the sideline.

The offensive line had probably its best performance of the season last week against Rutgers. What was the biggest difference?

MB: Everybody knew Rutgers was one of the top schools in the nation in sacks and creating turnovers. That gave us an edge throughout the whole week of practice. Being a younger group of guys, we’re finally starting to jell. We’re finally getting a feel for each other.

You were the only returning starter and you missed three games. So how long does it take for a group of guys to be able to work together well?

MB: There’s no timeline. When it happens it happens. As one of the older guys, you know when it’s coming. I feel like we’re starting to go in the right direction. The line we had last year, it took us a year and a half to play the way we did last season. Last year was when we finally jelled. Everybody matures at a different rate. We’ve asked the young guys to grow up quickly and they’re finally starting to do that.

How hard was it on you to sit out?

MB: It was really hard. I never had to sit out anything high school or college. I started every game besides one against Arkansas State last year. To go into camp feeling relatively healthy for the first time in three years, I was feeling pretty good about getting to work with the younger guys. It hurt us as a line and me, having to sit back and sit out and miss the first three games. That’s a long time, that’s two months without getting to work with the guys. I was thrown into the mix Marshall week with two days in practice. So I literally went from laid up in bed to playing.

So how did you get hurt?

MB: I had an infection in the joint of my right ankle that put me in the hospital for a while. It was tough. I lost 20 pounds and didn’t have an appetite. I was really sick. It was just one of those freak accidents where I woke up at the beginning of camp and I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle. I was in excruciating pain. It was an infection that was forming within my joint for a while and it finally blew up on me. I had to go in and do all kinds of stuff on it to get the pressure relieved.

How did you get the infection?

MB: I don’t know. I didn’t have a wound. It’s one of those things where I woke up and didn’t have any cuts. It was weird because I felt it between the bones, and was like, ‘What is going on?’ I can’t explain it. Even the doctors were kind of, ‘Hey, what’s going on? It was like a case study. I was in the hospital for a week and a half, two weeks total, in and out every a couple days. There was nothing I could do.

I cannot even imagine how hard that was on you.

MB: It was devastating. I felt like me being out there in games would at least give them a mental edge. Not only was I not playing with them, I wasn’t on the sideline. That was hard for me. You can be the vocal guy on the sideline, but I was laid up in the hospital. It was just really, really hard on me.

How did you make it through?

MB: Family and teammates. My parents flew up as soon as they heard about it from Texas. They were worried about me because something like that can get serious if it spreads throughout your body. I had to wear a PICC line in my heart. I went from me being pretty darn sick to playing football a week after I got out.

How long did it take you to feel like you were in football shape?

MB: Cincinnati week I started feeling better. I feel really good now. I finally feel not necessarily like the old me, but I feel like I’m headed in the right direction. I’m getting used to the quickness of the game, my football IQ -- it’s like riding a bike but not that easy. The last month was like my training camp. I’ve got that month back, and now I feel like I would have felt at the beginning of the season.