Thank you for the feedback guys!
I will be sure to address each of your posts. But for now, see below:
Completed bench, short of a few coats of stain and poly:
Gusset as suggested:
3/4" Maple + 5/8" Particle + 3/4" Maple sandwich:
Screw holes covered with wood putty, then sanded, blended, and stained (first coat only):