Muck City native Travis Benjamin on chasing rabbits, gaining speed

Benjamin developing chemistry with Philip Rivers (1:54)

ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks with Travis Benjamin about his transition to a new team in San Diego. (1:54)

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers is enamored with his latest playmaker, electric receiver Travis Benjamin.

A free-agent addition this offseason from the Cleveland Browns, Benjamin has made a seamless transition to his new team, the San Diego Chargers, bringing with him a new dimension as a speedy deep threat.

"I already knew he was fast, but just getting around him, it is game-changing fast," Rivers said about Benjamin. "Not that we’re just going to heave him a bunch of deep balls. But the threat that he can run by you, it makes every now and then an easy 10- or 12-yard completion."

Benjamin also is the latest player from Muck City to make a name for himself in the NFL, following in the footsteps of Fred Taylor, Anquan Boldin, Santonio Holmes and Janoris Jenkins.

Known for the dark, lush soil used to cultivate the corn and sugarcane fields of South Florida, the small towns of Pahokee and Belle Glade make up Muck City -- about two hours north of Miami in the Florida Everglades.

Benjamin hails from Belle Glade.

According to Boldin, since the 1980s Muck City has sent more than its share of players to the NFL.

"It’s just that everybody is so competitive," Boldin said when asked why so many talented players have emerged from his community. "With Pahokee and Belle Glade right next to each other, we’re in two towns five minutes away from each other and it’s about as top-notch competition that you can get.

"You want to fill those shoes like Santonio Holmes, Anquan Boldin and Fred Taylor, the legacies those guys left. So you just go out there and compete."

Here’s a closer look at one of the rites of passage growing up in Muck City -- catching rabbits in the sugarcane fields.

So what’s up with catching the rabbits in Muck City? Can you describe what that means in your community?

Benjamin: Growing up it was just kind of a tradition. You would hear the stories growing up how they used to catch rabbits, and you finally see a field out there burning, and you get in the wave [of people].

So you were part of the wave?

Benjamin: Yeah, you see a field like this burning, and that’s the rabbits’ home. And so when they see the fire and smoke coming, they run out and you chase them.

How many people would be out there in that wave?

Benjamin: I always went in packs, so there was like 10 or 15 of us spread out. And about the time the sun comes down, you come back with what you have.

So what did you have to do to be effective?

Benjamin: You have to be quick on your feet, because you’re running in dirt, and in some places it’s, like, knee-high. So you’re out there just running in dirt, and getting dirty and having fun.

So where did you rank in catching rabbits?

Benjamin: There were some guys that could [get] at least 100 [in one day]. I was in, like, the 15-to-20 range. Those guys would be out there from sunup to sundown.

And then you eat them, right?

Benjamin: Yeah, skin them and fry 'em or sautéed -- eat 'em however you want

What was your favorite way to prepare them?

Benjamin: I always ate them sautéed with white rice. Taste like chicken.

Who was one of your major influences growing up?

Benjamin: My older brother, Troy Stewart. We always played ball together. And since he was the oldest, he started first. So I always wanted to be like him growing up and playing football. And I just fell in love with the sport. He played everything. He was, like, 6-5, so growing up when you’re that tall you play mostly on the line. His first love was basketball.

You knew San Diego’s fifth-round pick, Jatavis Brown, growing up in Belle Glade. What was that relationship like, and how odd is it now being on the same team?

Benjamin: He’s a couple years younger than me, so he always was that young guy in the neighborhood that you knew was going to be special. When I was in college and coming back to watch him play in high school, he was probably one of the most dominant players on the defensive side of the ball. So him just coming up, and when he was at Akron I was in Cleveland, so I kind of still had my eye on him. Just to see him come where I’m at, there’s going to be big things for us.