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Marshall’s Iran Bennett works the post against Western Kentucky’s Carson Williams during a Jan. 22 game at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Anyone who has seen Iran Bennett, a center for Marshall men’s basketball team, knows that he’s a large man with a larger personality.

Bennett routinely takes pictures with fans and high-fives little kids who marvel at the enormity of Marshall’s redshirt junior frontcourt presence.

As has been the case with many people, however, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 took some of Bennett’s smile away when it took him from the Henderson Center floor, which was closed until late summer.

Bennett found himself in Huntington trying his best to stay on course without the comfort of his Marshall teammates and the support system around him.

“When I came back, we were on lockdown, so I really just tried to get out and run in the morning,” Bennett said. “Even when I was sitting at home by myself, I’d just try to do push-ups, sit-ups — just do something to keep active.”

For Bennett, basketball is not only a means to an education, it is also a means for him to stay active and healthy, both mentally and physically. When it’s taken away, he struggles with that loss.

2020 has been a tough year for Bennett. First, he lost basketball for a while, which took its toll on him.

Now, he’s lost his grandfather, who passed away two weeks ago and forced his return to North Carolina.

“It’s been kind of hard because the last three, four weeks, I’ve been going back and forth to North Carolina because I was trying to be there as much as possible as I could with my grandfather before he passed away,” Bennett said.

In a normal year, Bennett would have gotten back and used basketball as a solace to get through the tough times.

However, in 2020, each trip to North Carolina meant sitting out in isolation due to COVID-19 protocols, which meant doing nothing for two weeks.

“It’s been very hard, just dealing with that and then coming back and getting back into basketball mentality,” Bennett said.

A normal coping mechanism for many people is to stay to themselves. Food is also a common coping mechanism.

But Bennett — listed at 6-foot-9, 335 pounds on Marshall’s roster — dealt with weight issues earlier in his career that took him up around 400 pounds, so he knew he couldn’t afford such a lapse, despite the struggles.

Simply put, he couldn’t sit around and feel sorry for himself during the difficult time.

Bennett, who now weighs 313 pounds, admitted that he’s not back to where he wants to be, and there is still work to be done if he wants to be ready for Wednesday’s season opener against Coppin State.

Last year, Bennett got his weight down to under 300 pounds at the start of the season, and he hopes to get it back in that range again for this season.

It takes a good mindset and focused mentality when battling against yourself, though.

“I just try to stay in good spirits and when I do get back in there or when I am working out, I just try to go as hard as I can,” Bennett said. “That’s all you really can do.”

Now that the season is less than a week away, Bennett is excited to take the court with his teammates again, no matter how big or small the role may be.

Bennett knows Marshall’s 2020-21 team could be special if the players all play their part and go as hard as they can.

“We’ve definitely got the kind of team that can go far and go to March Madness and win games,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do when we get out there.”

As the clock ticks closer to Nov. 25, the smile is starting to come back to Bennett’s face and the energy is starting to return after working on his diet — a task in itself during COVID-19.

Once games begin again, that’s when Bennett will start to feel normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic weight-ing game will finally be over.