Ben Dupree arrived at the gates of The Citadel four years ago wearing a pair of flip-flops.
Who: VMI (2-8) at The Citadel (4-6)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where; Johnson Hagood Stadium
“I was clueless as to what was about to happen,” the Bulldogs’ senior quarterback recalls. “The flip-flops were a bad idea. I had to march around that first day, and they hadn’t given us our shoes yet. I had to march around in flip-flops and try to keep from falling.”
Dupree quickly ditched the flip-flops and went about earning a spot in Citadel football history. The 5-9, 185-pounder from Harrisburg, Pa., won’t go down as the Bulldogs’ best quarterback ever – that honor goes to Jack Douglas, until further notice – but coach Kevin Higgins says he deserves a spot somewhere near the top of the list.
“I can’t say enough about Ben and what he’s meant to this program,” Higgins said Monday as Dupree and the rest of The Citadel’s seniors prepare for their final home game Saturday against VMI. “Not just on the field, but off the field. He’s in the record books and he’s a true competitor. He’s had a great career.”
With two games left in his career, Dupree stands seventh in Citadel history in career rushing yards with 2,501, and third in rushing touchdowns with 33.
Only fullback Everette Sands (34 touchdowns) and Douglas (50), stars of the Bulldogs’ 1992 Southern Conference championship team, have rushed for more TDs than Dupree. Odds are than Dupree will finish second on the TD list and perhaps as high as sixth on the rushing yards list.
But those numbers don’t tell the story of the work Dupree put in as the Bulldogs turned back to the triple-option offense four years ago. The going was rough as the Bulldogs went 3-8 and then 4-7 in Dupree’s first two years before last season’s breakthrough 7-4 mark.
“Ben entered the program when we were transitioning from a spread offense to the triple option,” Higgins said. “We were really starting from scratch and he was thrown into the fire from the moment he stepped ib campus.
“And it wasn’t until two-thirds of the way through his freshman year that we figured out that he was the guy and we just had to be patient with him. Everything is different when you move from one offense to another, and he did a great job keeping everyone focused on what we needed to do.”
Dupree began his freshman year as the starting quarterback, but had lost the job by halftime of the season opener. He played some slotback before moving back to quarterback near the end of the season, and has been the starter ever since.
“I had some low points, everybody does,” Dupree said. “My freshman year, we weren’t doing well as a team, I was young and really didn’t know how to stay up in a bad situation. My parents, they really supported me through that and that’s why I stuck it out.”
The high point of his career, so far, was the Bulldogs 52-28 win at Appalachian State last year, when he ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns on runs of 57 and 46 yards.
“That was the biggest game of my career, and the atmosphere up there, that’s what football is all about,” he said. “We put on a show for them.”
Dupree had the best passing game of his career last Saturday at Elon, when he hit 4 of 6 passes for 166 yards and a TD in a 35-10 win. That earned him the SoCon offensive player of the week award for the second time this season.
Dupree had big plans for his senior year – he would catch punts to impress pro scouts while the Bulldogs competed for a SoCon title – that didn’t work out. But he still has plans.
“Hopefully, I get a shot at the next level somehow, somewhere,” he said. “And after that, I plan on being an athletic director.”
And then Ben Dupree can wear flip-flops whenever he wants.
• The Citadel’s game at Clemson on Nov. 23 is set for a noon kickoff and will be televised on ESPN3.
• The Citadel has won six straight games against military-school rival VMI, including last year’s 27-24 win in Lexington, Va. VMI’s last win was by 23-21 in Charlotte in 2002; the Keydets have not won in Charleston since a 34-7 win in 1995.