Bentley Shares Special Bond with Air Force Veteran Mother

Nov. 15, 2013

By Lexi Shurilla, staff writer

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A bond between a mother and son is something very special. The lessons sophomore cornerback V'Angelo Bentley has learned from his mother, Angela, helped mold him into the young man he is today. The name V'Angelo is a combination of his mother's name and his father, Vernon.

"My mom and I have a great relationship," Bentley said. "She's my best friend. She's someone I can go to and talk with about anything, and she always gives me guidance from a mother's perspective and through her life experiences. I don't know what I would do without her. She's a great person."

The closeness of Bentley and his mother's relationship continued to grow even with Angela being in the Air Force since 1986. She served two tours in the war in Afghanistan. As a nurse, her job was to care for wounded soldiers. She not only treated Americans, but also any wounded who came through Bagram, including Afghan soldiers. Bentley and his family were both proud and relieved when she retired after 25 years of service for her country.

When Bentley was younger, his mother used to go to her military base in Youngstown, Ohio, for one weekend every month. Sometimes he would go with her, if they had a family day, but he understood that being in the Air Force was something else she did aside from her job as a full-time nurse. He didn't understand the dynamics of his mom being in the military until she was deployed overseas.

"She was deployed twice," Bentley said. "The first time I didn't really understand. The war had just started and I didn't really know that much about it. When she was gone and I would see things on TV, that's how I really learned about it. I really learned about the dynamics of the situation. The second time she went I kind of knew what everything was about. She voluntarily went the second time. So that's something that showed her character and her dedication to our country."

"She was deployed twice. The first time I didn't really understand. The war had just started and I didn't really know that much about it. When she was gone and I would see things on TV, that's how I really learned about it. I really learned about the dynamics of the situation." - V'Angelo Bentley
When Bentley was six years old, Angela was looking for something to get her son involved in, so she took him to meet a friend of her husband's, whose nephews all played on the same youth football team: the East 89 Street Bulldogs in Cleveland, Ohio.

"I went there and football was new to me," Bentley said. "They put me in a tackling circle and I had never played before and they were older than me, so they were just smacking me around and I didn't really like that. My mom tells the story that she came to get me and she couldn't find me, and when she found me, I was in the sandbox playing."

Football wasn't exactly what Bentley had in mind at first, but the next year he told his father he wanted to play. Vernon took him to Rick Wilcox, a close friend and coach of the East Cleveland Chiefs.

"I just took off from there," Bentley said. "It was something I really enjoyed. The first year I didn't because it was new to me. But then my dad talked to me about it because at the time my dad was a big motorcycle rider, so all I wanted to do was ride my bike and do wheelies up and down the street. But then he took me up to the East Cleveland Chiefs, and it was a family up there. They put me at quarterback and I scored a lot, so that's when I started liking football."

His mother was away for a total of 10 months in Afghanistan: four in 2004 and six in 2007. Bentley was nine years old the first time his mom was deployed. Her destination was Bagram, Afghanistan, while Bentley was home with his stepfather, Robert Pope, and his younger sister, Nakita. Yet his mother was never more than a phone call or email away. During her second tour, Bentley was almost 13 years old and Skype web chatting made seeing his mother's face possible for her family back in Ohio.

Bentley chose to spend a lot of his time at his grandparent's house to keep his mind away from the fact that his mother was away, and naturally, he turned to focusing on sports. He was very active growing up, and spent his free time playing basketball, football and track.

It was a collective effort to take care of Bentley and his younger sister. His dad, stepfather and grandparents were there for him, and close friends of the family stepped in as well. Angela never had much time to learn the ins-and-outs of football or track, the two sports Bentley excelled in. Her focus was on her family and getting her son the best education she could.

One option was the Ted Ginn Academy, founded by Ted Ginn, Sr., the father of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. The school was founded in 2007 by Ginn, who coaches the football and track teams at Glenville High School. It's an all-boys public school in Cleveland, and while it is highly regarded, Bentley's mother wasn't sure about the decision because Bentley had always been in Catholic schools growing up. But Coach Ginn convinced Angela it was the right choice for her son, and the Ginn Academy created a sense of pride for Bentley.

"It's something that when you're a football player that's the next goal," Bentley said of playing football after high school. "The ultimate goal is to further your education, and football is the vehicle to get there. That's the metaphor they use [at Glenville] to this day. I saw it as an opportunity to better myself, to get an education, and to represent my city and my family. It was probably something I had to do, especially coming from Glenville High School, and hearing all the big names that came out of the school. It's a goal set by pretty much every kid who comes from that school."

Bentley finished high school as valedictorian of his class of 62 students. He had multiple offers after graduating from high school, but knew that putting academics first would guide him in the right direction.

V'Angelo Bentley wrote his name in the Illinois record book with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2013 season-opening win against Southern Illinois. It matched the longest kickoff return in school history.
"When I came here, it was a good family atmosphere, and I'm big on family, and my family is big on family," Bentley said of coming to Illinois. "Out of the choices I had, this was the better academic school. My mom was pretty big on that, and the goal is to always keep mom happy. She didn't force me to make the decision. She just put it in my ear, 'Don't just go for football. This is an academic scholarship also, so get your academics in and choose the best of the schools.'"

In the 2013 season opener against Southern Illinois, Bentley stood in the end zone at Memorial Stadium, waiting to return a kickoff from the Salukis. In the stands, Angela and Vernon watched their son stamp his name in the record books.

WATCH: V'Angelo Bentley's school record 100-yard kickoff return

Bentley's 100-yard return became tied for the longest in Illinois and NCAA history and was only the second time Illinois completed a 100-yard return ever. Today, Angela now works as a nurse in the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cordova, Tenn. Bentley's father Vernon still lives in Cleveland. Being an all-star track athlete helped give Bentley quick feet, and while she's still learning the game, his mother is still teaching him from the stands.

"She's funny," Bentley said. "She's learning the game, so she pretty much knows what's going on and she knows where I'm usually at on the field. And it's funny, because the away games that she can't come to, she will just tell me honestly how I did. During the game, she's texting my phone saying, 'You've got to catch that ball,' or 'You've got to make him miss,' or 'You've got to make that tackle,' or 'What are you doing?' And I see it after the game and think, call her and we talk about the game. It's great because some kids don't get to see their moms in the stands, or fathers and grandparents, and I just appreciate that my family supports me."