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Senior lineman Benji Mowatt (31) has turned his relatively small stature into a strength for the Quakers.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Benji Mowatt’s football career has gone through a number of iterations.

Hailing from Fort Lee, N.J., the senior defensive lineman comes from a family of football players. His father played in high school, his uncles played in college (one at Penn), and his second cousin played for the Giants and Patriots and even caught a touchdown from Phil Simms in Super Bowl XXI.

Mowatt has played nine different sports, including three in high school at Saint Peter’s Preparatory School. Although he stopped after his sophomore year, Mowatt attributes much of his skills to his time playing rugby.

“What helped me elevate my game was me playing rugby and building that stamina and endurance and also practicing so much of that form tackling and then just translating that to my junior year when I had a breakout season and started to get offers from different schools," Mowatt said. 

Mowatt played wide receiver and outside linebacker his freshman year and scout team quarterback his sophomore year. He finished out his high school career playing both outside linebacker and tight end in his final two seasons. Mowatt chose to stick on the defensive line after attending football camps where the coaches noticed his ability on that side of the ball.

Penn was his first collegiate offer, and after connecting with the coaches, Mowatt improved each successive season. His freshman year consisted of opportunities few and far between, but Mowatt followed that up in his sophomore season by playing in all 10 games and recording the second-most sacks on the team with four. In 2019, Mowatt again appeared in every game and recorded the most sacks on the team with six.

Coming into Penn though, Mowatt had to rely on what he’d learned and experienced while at Saint Peter’s Prep.

“In high school, I definitely wasn’t the star of my team. I would say there were at least five players that were bigger stars on my team than me. I wasn’t the flashiest player,” Mowatt said. “So when I came in, I wasn’t expecting people to cater to me. I knew, having been the scout team QB, I’d have to work for my achievements, pay my dues.” 

Much of that hard work would need to come in the form of putting on weight, as Mowatt guesses he was probably 40-50 pounds lighter than the lightest defensive lineman Penn had when he was a freshman. He was underweight for his position because he thought that he was going to play inside linebacker for the Quakers.

“There was no talent gap. I knew I had the skill,” Mowatt said. “It was legitimately just the size.”

Although still somewhat slim for his position, Mowatt has gone from 230-235 pounds his junior year to 245 pounds after spending quarantine even more focused on gaining weight.

“I haven’t played any actual football at this weight. I’m not sure how I play yet,” Mowatt said. “I think it’ll translate relatively well because I’ve been making sure to do body-weight reps with a lot of different exercises.”

Mowatt’s more slender frame grants him distinct advantages on the defensive line.

“My most unique ability is my agility and pursuit to the ball as a D-lineman,” Mowatt said. “Since I don’t weigh as much, I have to be able to compensate in something else and being able to stop my change of direction makes a huge difference.”

His agility and pursuit are valuable assets, but Mowatt’s greatest strength is his get-off from the line. He says that after around eight of the 10 games last season, the tackle he opposed would actually come up to him and compliment his get-off ability.

As Mowatt enters his senior season, he attributes his success to his teammates and what he has learned from leaders of Penn football past, such as Louis Vecchio, Cooper Gardner, Taheeb Sonekan, and Prince Emili. In particular, he admires the impression that Gardner, a defensive lineman who graduated in 2019, left on him.

“He definitely taught me a lot, and I know he knows that, but he probably doesn’t even know half of it because just seeing how he kept his composure as a leader and how hard he worked inspired me," Mowatt said.

Currently, Mowatt is waiting for his next opportunity to get on the field despite the upcoming football season remaining in jeopardy. After three years of playing primarily in pass rush packages, Mowatt is looking forward to getting put into much more base defense, as he wants to help in the run game as well as in pass rush. He’s also excited to get another shot at the elusive Ivy League title that he has yet to win during his time at Penn.

Although Mowatt seems somewhat settled in his role as a valuable defensive lineman for Penn, he still has one more change to his game up his sleeve. This season, Mowatt is changing his number from 31 to 3. After playing with the number 31 for his first three years at Penn, Mowatt is excited to make the change. Three was his preferred number all along because his favorite athlete is Dwyane Wade and the number has familial significance.

Given Mowatt's hard work and development, his final iteration might be an even greater improvement over his previous versions.