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Thursday, February 18, 2010
Johnson: Bennett 'will still be a part of us'

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

An emotional Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson met with reporters Thursday to discuss the Rajaan Bennett tragedy.

A couple of different times, Johnson had to gather himself while reminiscing about what made Bennett a perfect fit for Vanderbilt. Johnson nearly broke down when recalling the night the star running back from Powder Springs, Ga., committed to the Commodores.

"I felt great. In my opinion, it was the best place for him. ... It was going to change his life," said Johnson, his voice cracking.

Over and above Bennett's ability as a football player, Johnson said what stood out about him during the recruiting process was the way he cared for and watched over his family. Bennett's father died tragically when he was just in the sixth grade.

"He was really a family person," Johnson said. "You could see him interacting with his mother and his brother and his two sisters. You knew he was trying to protect them in the end. We're going to miss him."

Bennett, one of the Commodores' top-rated signees for the 2010 class, was shot and killed early Thursday morning at his family's home in an apparent murder-suicide. The suspected shooter was a former boyfriend of Bennett's mother, police said.

"Rajaan was the man of the house," Johnson said. "He took care of his brother and his mother and his sisters, and they all looked up to him. That's what he was trying to do at the end. You hate to see guys have to have that role that early in their lives, but he handled it as good as anybody possibly could have."

Johnson said Vanderbilt planned to help Bennett's family any way the school possibly could.

"He will still be a part of us," Johnson said.

Tragically, this is the second time Johnson and the Vanderbilt football family have had to go through something like this. Running back Kwane Doster was shot and killed in December 2004, following his junior season at Vanderbilt. He was sitting in the back seat of a car in Tampa, Fla., when he was shot.

"It's just total shock, total disbelief," Johnson said. "Questions go through your mind. How did this happen, and how did it happen to good guys like Kwane and Rajaan? Unfortunately, we don't have answers to those [questions]. That's the bad part of it.

"Not only did it happen once, but it happened twice, and we don't have good answers."