Will Benoit didn’t let 2 seasons missed due to COVID stop him from reaching his DI dreams – SouthCoastToday.com

Will Benoit didn’t let 2 seasons missed due to COVID stop him from reaching his DI dreams  SouthCoastToday.com

When considering Will Benoit’s successful journey to UMass Lowell, which was made official when he signed a National Letter of Intent on Thursday, it’s hard not to marvel at all he had working against him over the past 17 months.  

From an injury-derailed cross season in the fall of 2019 to a COVID-canceled outdoor track season in the spring of 2020 to a postponed cross country season just this fall, he has enjoyed just one healthy running season since the end of his sophomore year. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 was upending the traditional college recruitment calendar. 


Luckily, Benoit — who was named to the Standard-Times All-Decade Cross Country team before he’d reached his senior year — had gotten to work early. During his junior year he began contacting Division I college coaches by email, asking them to take a look at his accomplishments. 

“I’ve always wanted to run Division I,” he said. “That was my goal all through high school, from freshman year. Division I is what I was shooting for. I’ve always shot for the highest possible level of athletics I could.” 

UMass Lowell cross country coach Gary Gardner responded and invited Benoit up to campus in February, just a month before the March shutdown. 

“I was so thankful,” Benoit said of his timing. “Had I reached out later, recruiting is completely different now. I definitely got lucky.” 

“That’s what is tough about this Covid thing. Coaches can’t go out and recruit like they do in a regular year,” said Fairhaven cross country and track coach Jessica Pilla. “He was really proactive about going on those visits. It’s awesome he was able to sneak in that visit before this all happened.” 


While Benoit was already familiar with the Lowell campus — his father, Russ, is an alumni — the visit left him with a strong impression.  

“I loved the campus,” Will said. “I’d always loved the atmosphere up there. I went and visited the coaches and some of the athletes and the atmosphere of the team and the camaraderie they showed was contagious and something from the moment I got up there I’d love to be a part of one day.” 

As the spring and summer rolled on, Benoit’s decision only got easier. 

“The coaches have been great,” he said. “They’ve been checking in with me all through Covid, checking in on my training. That real sense of them caring and keeping in touch was the main thing that drew me toward Lowell.” 

Thus Benoit spent a recent Thursday afternoon in the Fairhaven High School library, signing to run Division I cross country and two seasons of track and field.

“It’s a dream come true, really,” he said. “To think back when I was a wide-eyed freshman who wanted to go to a DI school and now to finally achieve that is a dream come true.” 


Benoit has long been a runner — he fondly remembers watching his father run the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, DC — but he didn’t always consider it his future. He got his start in the third grade at Wood Elementary School when he joined the Band of Brothers running club. 

“It wasn’t like I wanted to run my whole life,” he said. “That was the only club we had at our school, so me and some of the other kids, we just did it. We wanted something to do after school. I think I was the second-fastest on the team.” 

He entered his first Fairhaven Father’s Day 5K race that same year, then moved up to the 10K, then by fifth grade he ran the first of his four New Bedford Half Marathon.  

“I still never thought any of this would happen,” he said. “Going into high school I did cross country because it’s football or cross country and clearly I’m not a football players’ build, so I figured I’d run. I hadn’t run because I thought I had a future in it. I just ran because it was fun and I was alright.”

Benoit was better than alright. He burst onto the high school scene in the fall of 2017, winning all but two dual meets and twice breaking Fairhaven’s course record. He finished second in the South Coast Conference championship (17:09.11), then placed 19th in Div. 5 (17:05).

He played basketball and baseball the rest of his freshman year, but returned to cross country in the fall of 2018 and dominated, earning The Standard-Times Runner of the Year honors. He took 10th in the Div. 2 All-State meet and ran 16:44 at the Div. 5 meet and 16:47 in the SCC Championship.  

Benoit joined the outdoor track team as a sophomore and won every 2-mile event he entered during the dual-meet season before winning the event at the SCC Championships in 10:28.18. He took fourth in Div. 4 and ran a season-best time of 10:08.  


His junior cross country season was less successful, but that winter he tried indoor track for the first time, taking third in the mile (4:46) and running a personal-best 10:19 2-mile for a Blue Devils team that won the SCC Small championship. 

“He came in Day 1 hungry to get better and he worked every day toward that,” Pilla said. “We were always making workouts to help him get better and work on the parts of his races we felt like we could improve. He had awesome teammates to push him the whole time. It was fun to get better with them and see Will improve year after year and race after race and still be hungry no matter what.” 

Benoit is now joining a River Hawks cross country program coming off its strongest team showing ever — a fourth-place finish in the NCAA Northeast Regional, with two runners advancing to the National Championships.

Lowell finished second in America East at both the 2019 Cross Country Championship and the 2020 Indoor Track and Field Championship. 

“UMass Lowell has a great program for distance runners,” Pilla said. “He’ll absolutely be successful there. What’s nice about UMass Lowell is he’ll fit right in and contribute to the team. It’s just a good fit.” 

Benoit plans to major in business with a focus on finance. But right now, his true focus is on getting back to running competitively.

“I’m really excited to compete,” he said. “I know going from a school here where I’m one of the fastest, when I go up there it’s going to be humbling. But that’s honestly what I want. I want to be pushed and become as fast as I possibly can.” 

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