Burroughs High graduate Wes Bender, a former University of Southern California and NFL fullback has died at age 47 of an apparent heart attack.
Originally an offensive lineman at Burbank High, Bender transferred to Burroughs after his sophomore year to play his preferred position of fullback. He went on to star at Glendale Community College before transferring to USC and playing one season in the NFL with the then Los Angeles Raiders and one season with the New Orleans Saints.
“When I think of Wes Bender the player, I think of what a great leader he was for us, a great player and student and his work ethic was unbelievable,” former Glendale College head coach John Cicuto recalled of Bender. “He was very humble and never talked about himself or his accomplishments but was just a great person to be around. He cared a lot about Glendale College and his coaches and teammates and it’s just sad to think he is gone. Very sad.”
At Glendale College, Bender was an All-Western State Conference Northern Division and All-State selection, who rushed for 996 yards on 143 carries and scored four touchdowns. As a freshman, he carried the ball 84 times for the Vaqueros, gaining 471 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns.
“I had a great time here and at Glendale College,” Bender said at Burroughs’ 2015 Hall of Fame Class Induction ceremony.
As a fullback, Bender carried the ball 17 times for 59 yards for USC in 1991. As a senior in 1992, he carried the ball 25 times for 64 yards and scored one touchdown.
He also played on special teams, returning three kickoffs for 15 yards.
Undrafted, Bender originally signed with the Kansas City Chiefs but never played in a regular season game for them.
He spent the 1994 season with the then Los Angeles Raiders. Bender appeared in nine games and had two receptions for 14 yards.
In 1996 he played in Germany for the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football. He finished the season with 16 carries for 41 yards and one touchdown. He also had 19 receptions for 119 yards.
He spent the 1997 season with the New Orleans Saints, where he appeared in 11 games. He carried the ball five times for 9 yards.
In high school, Bender helped Burroughs reach the 1987 CIF Southern Section Northwestern Conference title game.
Former Burroughs tailback Doug Dragomer, who shared the Indians’ backfield with Bender, said he was stunned and saddened by his passing.
“We both started playing Burbank Vikings when we were nine years old,” Dragomer recalled. “He was always that guy that you wanted on your team. He brought so much toughness to the team. When he came over to Burroughs, we were very excited to have him.”
Former USC and NFL running back Mazio Royster also remembered Bender.
“Wes was a great teammate, but an even better person,” Royster said. “When we played together at USC in the early 90s, the fullback position was truly all guts and no glory. Iso (Short for Isolation) was our bread and butter play. Offensive linemen would block man up then scoop to the backside linebacker, thus leaving an opening for the front side linebacker and the fullback to meet in the hole. It was my job as the tailback to read the fullback’s block. These were some of the most violent collisions imaginable and Wes never shied away from contact, complained or even asked for praise.”
Memorial services are pending.