When people imagine the perfect student-athlete, Benen Lawler comes to mind in North Kitsap.
“I have always been a perfectionist,” Lawler said. “When they see I am credible in what I am doing, I can open up discussions and lead by example.”
Lawler’s story did not start perfectly — not at all. He grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with two older brothers. They played all the sports there, and Lawler stood out. But when his mother began dealing with alcohol abuse, Lawler moved to his grandparents’ house to finish eighth grade so he would not have to repeat it.
In Canada, he and his brothers would often be left fending for themselves. So, Lawler moved to Poulsbo with his brothers so he could live with his father and have a better lifestyle.
“My parents definitely helped me turn it around in the U.S. They gave me a stable home, which was something that I lacked my whole life,” he said.
But it was not easy to adjust to a new culture.
“I never had to move to a new area and fit into a new place,” Lawler said. “It was hard battling with some insecurities but the community is so accepting, and I feel so welcomed here.”
His brothers moved on so Lawler didn’t have much support when he became a freshman at North Kitsap High School. “If you got nobody supporting you then support yourself,” Lawler said. “But, having those people supporting you are the biggest thing for a great mental state.”
Lawler said his siblings also turned their lives around once in the states. They’re both enrolled in college. “They were not looking to have the same outcome if they had stayed in Canada.”
He said his dad really is happy they moved here. “Since both of my brothers moved out to college, he needs my help with stuff . He didn’t really get to see me as much with the separation.”
Lawler now had strong family ties, but he needed some friends, and the first way he met new people was through sports.
“I see it in movies like ‘Friday Night Lights’ but I didn’t even know the rules of football until the end of sophomore year,” Lawler said. “Once I started playing it, I found an environment and brotherhood.”
Football coach Jeff Weible has a lot of admiration for his star player. “Having come here from Canada and never have played football, he has learned the game and progressed incredibly well. He is a very vocal leader, which doesn’t happen much at the high school level in this generation. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a player lead in this way.”
Once in sports, Lawler changed his life around. Some of the football brotherhood took him under their wing. Once he was accepted into the community, he was able to flip his trajectory of life as his confidence soared, his charisma rose and his ability to learn and adapt grew exponentially. Shortly after, he became a leader on and off the field. “I have always tried to lead by example, and I believe that is what helped me get the respect of others,” Lawler said.
He gained so much respect he was named captain of both the football and track teams.
During North Kitsap’s state football run, Lawler led the team in rushing yards with 992 yards, rushing yards per game with 70.9, touchdowns with 16 and second in all-purpose yards with 1,222. On the defensive side, Lawler picked up 59 tackles in 14 games. He was also chosen to play in the 2A All-State Football game in June. In track, Lawler has placed in nearly every meet in the 100-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 110 hurdles, 4×100 relay, 4×400 relay and pole vault.
“I wish he would continue to play football once he leaves here, but he just wants to do the college thing,” Weible said. “We will certainly miss his leadership and charismatic personality.”
But Lawler isn’t just a jock. Outside of sports, he is the Associated Student Body class president. “I definitely didn’t see it coming,” Lawler said. “I have always been a leader and try to help others.”
As president, Lawler serves as the primary student representative, as a chairperson and prepares agendas for the student council meetings, assists in the yearly activity calendar, delegates ASB projects and more.
He’s smart, too. He holds a 4.0-grade point average, is NKHS co-valedictorian and earned a gold medal in French biliteracy through the Global Seal of Biliteracy. “Every time I see an A-, I try to fix it,” Lawler said. “After junior year, I looked into it and found out I was co-valedictorian and thought it was pretty cool.”
The ultimate team player, for his valedictorian speech, his goal is to include everyone in his class in it. “I am really reaching for this idea, but I think it would be really cool if I could include everyone’s first name in it so that everyone feels included.”
Track coach Davis Snyder said he is impressed with Lawler’s leadership skills, especially during the pandemic.
“My first experience with Benen was during COVID, learning sophomore world history,” Snyder said. “This was a very trying time for all of us, student and teacher alike. I challenged myself to be as upbeat as possible during these sessions to get kids to turn on their screens.
“Benen was the first to turn his screen on and have full interaction as a small group class. Soon, a few more turned their screens on, and we began to make sense of this new world together.”
Lawler looks to always give back to the community that took him in. “I realized I had some resources and abilities to give to others,” Lawler said. “I love teaching people character and seeing them grow in front of my eyes. Hopefully, I can be a good influence.”
He is a member of the Honor Society and has helped the community, including becoming a head coach for a middle school flag football team. “It’s important to do the right thing when people aren’t looking,” Lawler said.
Snyder said as a leader Lawler shows, “Grit, courage, passion and leadership. Benen is genuine and has a passion and love for his community. He has an unending energy like the Energizer bunny and his presence changes a room or team in an instant.”
When Lawler looks back at where he came from, he realizes he cannot take anything for granted. He has been grateful for every opportunity he has been given. His next opportunity will be to attend his dream university next year, the University of Washington, to possibly study biology and athletic medicine.
In the future, Lawler hopes to possibly become a Seahawks medical trainer. If that does not work, he does have one ultimate goal in life. “I just want to be remembered,” he said. “I don’t need any fame or anything, I just want to leave an impact and be here for a reason.”