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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Devin "DJ" Benton is in his first year playing for the Chattanooga Red Wolves, an opportunity that has allowed him to be closer to home and family after playing last year for another USL League One club, North Texas.

Immediately after scoring the first goal of his professional soccer career, Chattanooga Red Wolves forward Devin "DJ" Benton sprinted toward the stands at CHI Memorial Stadium during Saturday night's USL League One match against the Northern Colorado Hailstorm Football Club.

Benton saw the green hoodie worn by his father Will Dishman, and he saw his mother LaTonya, and while he may not have known exactly what location he was running to initially, he knew the place he wanted to go — or more specifically, the people he wanted to see.

Red Wolves assistant coach Jimmy Weekley also knew where Benton's celebratory route would take him. It was Weekley's childhood friendship with Dishman in Lakeland, Florida, that helped facilitate Benton joining the Red Wolves. Prior to last weekend's match in East Ridge, Benton had mentioned to Weekley that he wanted to give his mom his jersey.

For Benton and his family, Saturday night was made even more special when he scored in the 4-1 victory that helped keep the Red Wolves atop the 11-team league standings.

"I actually walked by his family on the way out of the stadium after the game and told William it felt like I was watching him out there," Weekley said. "It's fun, having them around and getting to see them more often; it's like having a member of your family here when there's someone from your hometown here."

In the past, it wasn't often that the Dishmans were able to make it to their son's games.

Benton played for the Houston Dynamo's developmental team in 2018 (his father is a development scout with the Major League Soccer club) before playing two seasons for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His first opportunity to play professionally was with another USL League One organization — the North Texas Soccer Club — and Benton has a tattoo with August 27, 2021, the date he signed his first pro deal.

After the season ended last fall, Weekley expressed to Dishman a desire to bring Benton to Chattanooga. Benton's family, who usually had to stream his games to watch him play, shared that desire to have him back in this part of the country. Weekley ran the idea by Red Wolves head coach Jimmy Obleda and general manager Sean McDaniel, and the rest was history.

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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Chattanooga Red Wolves forward Devin "DJ" Benton, right, heads in the go-ahead goal during Saturday's home win against Northern Colorado in a USL League One match Saturday night. It was Benton's first goal of his professional career.

So when Benton scored to put the Red Wolves ahead 2-1 near the end of the first half against Northern Colorado, Weekley knew Benton was headed in the direction of the man nicknamed "PeeWee" as a youth.

"I'm going to remember that the rest of my life, because when it happened, it didn't feel real," Benton said. "Normally when I go to the games, I look for my parents, but I couldn't find them before this game. But when I scored, my first reaction was to go to them.

"It was a surreal moment."

It was also a special one.

All the years of being away, playing with academy clubs and not being able to be with his family and siblings, felt worth it in that moment. Now he has started all six matches for the Red Wolves (3-2-1), who enter the seventh week of the season with 10 points in the standings — two ahead of the South Georgia Tormenta FC (2-1-2), Charlotte Independence (2-1-2) and Central Valley Fuego FC (2-1-2).

The latter is Chattanooga's opponent at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at CHI Memorial Stadium.

"It kind of just puts things into perspective," Benton said. "It's what we all worked for; not just me, but those nights where my mom and my dad stayed up to take me to and from practice, training or whatever. It's a group effort, and now we're seeing it pay off. Last week, to get a reward for the work I put in for this moment was great."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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