Leading Kick Returner Cunningham Also Leads the Way Off the Field

Posted Dec 9, 2016

Benny Cunningham can be described as a blue-collar worker who happens to be a running back for the Los Angeles Rams.

By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
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Benny Cunningham can be described as a blue-collar worker who happens to be a running back for the Los Angeles Rams.

“Yeah, I most definitely feel like that,” Cunningham said. “That’s our entire team though. The guys have put a lot of work in, from the players to the staff. The organization as a whole, they put a lot in the product.”

Cunningham, in his fourth season with the Rams after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State in 2013, contributes to the product as a standout on special teams. The franchise’s all-time leader in kickoff return average, after 12 games this season, Cunningham leads the NFL with 599 kickoff return yards, and averages 27.2 yards per return.

“(Special teams coordinator John) Fassel and (head coach Jeff) Fisher, they’ve got a lot of trust in me, a lot of trust in our special teams unit to make the right decisions,” Cunningham said. “Pretty much, I have a green light and I just try to take advantage of those opportunities when I get the ball in my hand. (My mindset is to) just be as aggressive as possible.

“I don’t know how it is in other places, but I know Coach Fisher’s most definitely special teams oriented. He puts a lot of focus into it. Bones (Fassel), he just does a good job of getting us prepared and making it fun, to really enjoy it out there.”

Also a solid backup to starting halfback Todd Gurley, Cunningham tries to make the most of his time on offense and has proven to be a reliable performer on third downs.

“Any time I can get the opportunity to get on the field, I most definitely appreciate it,” he said. “I work throughout the week just to make the most of those opportunities.”

What makes Cunningham most proud of his career?

“Not necessarily, I would say, one thing. Growing up, it being a dream and being able to make that dream come true, I just feel like that’s one of the best things,” Cunningham said, “And to be able to do stuff for my family and my community, it’s one of the biggest benefits from playing this game.”

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Cunningham has continued to find ways to assist those in his hometown. Unable to be there during the season, he has made financial contributions to Aspire: Be the Dream, a nonprofit organization that recently fed Thanksgiving dinner to more than 1,000 people.

During the offseason, Cunningham returns to Nashville to host a free youth football camp and volunteer with the Christian Community Services Program.

“Growing up, personally, there weren’t a lot of times when I interacted with professional athletes,” Cunningham said. “So anytime I can go back and kind of let those guys see that I went to the same school, played at the same parks and make the dreams that they have seem achievable, I know that the impact of just meeting a professional athlete in general can have on a little kid. Whether they might not listen to mom or dad, you can go in and have a different affect. Your voice might mean something and might stick with them.”

Meeting with the kids clearly means something and sticks with Cunningham.

“That’s why I continue to do it,” he said. “That’s why I continue to throw camps for the kids, because of the experience. It’s continued to grow. More people are hearing about it and bringing their kids and they’re getting the opportunity to compete and get criticism from someone who’s been there, done that and doing it at the highest level.”

Since moving to Los Angeles with the Rams earlier this year, Cunningham has had opportunities to experience different charity events around the city.

“It’s been great. They’ve embraced us since we’ve been here with open arms, showing us tons of love,” Cunningham said. “Anytime you can show them that you appreciate it and go out and do stuff in the community, meet people, whatever it may be, anything to show appreciation is always good.”