TAMPA — Caleb Benenoch's path to the NFL draft started with a miscommunication.
Benenoch was born in Nigeria but living in Katy, Texas, when he asked his mother to sign him up for football. She was excited; why not let him play soccer?
"We got out here, and it was a completely different game than what we thought it was," Benenoch said. "I fell in love with it really fast, and I've been playing ever since."
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Benenoch will continue do so with the Bucs after they drafted the UCLA offensive lineman Saturday in the fifth round (No. 148 overall).
Once his family figured out that football meant something different in America, his parents had no concerns with his new sport. He was always big, and he already had good footwork, so he played fullback and nose tackle while continuing with soccer in the offseason.
"I just wanted to make friends, honestly," Benenoch said. "(Football) was what my friends were doing. It made me happy to be out there playing, having fun with my friends in school."
While he wasn't bad at the sport his mom called football, he grew into a high school offensive lineman and blossomed into a four-star recruit.
Benenoch started 35 games in a row in three seasons at UCLA. Last fall, he was part of a Bruins offensive line that allowed only 14 sacks, second-fewest in program history.
"He's got a lot of experience," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. "He's tough. He's athletic. He's got a chance."
That's because of Benenoch's versatility.
He spent most of his time at right tackle at UCLA but also started four games at guard. He said he doesn't have a preference, and Licht said he has value at both positions; the coaching staff will debate where he should play.
"We feel like he can be a guard or a tackle," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That'll sort itself out … Swing guys at this point are crucial."
Benenoch's soccer background might still be paying off; his 4.98 second time in the 40-yard dash was third-quickest among all offensive linemen at the NFL scouting combine.
The Bucs selected Oklahoma linebacker Devante Bond in the sixth round, 183rd overall, then added another blocker with their final pick, drafting Northwestern's Danny Vitale 197th overall. The 6-2, 235-pound Vitale becomes the only fullback on the roster but will likely get looks at tight end and special teams, too.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.