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Monday, Mar 30, 2015
Nature Coast

From 'Killer B' to Yellow Jacket, Benyola still buzzing

Hernando Today correspondent


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Not all prep football players can be measured via their offensive contributions.

Some gridders seldom tote the football, throw the pill or latch on to any aerials.

Many believe if you don't ever visit the end zone, how can one possibly make an impact between the lines?

Scoring points, as the saying goes, fills the seats. Defense, as has been pointed out many times before, wins championships.

The short list of Nature Coast Technical's finest defensive players would include DL/LB John Carbone and CB/S Michael Fields.

Fields, who once swiped 10 passes in one season (2007), was not only an All-State selection but was Hernando Today's Defensive Player of the Year twice: 2007 and 2008.

The ever-present Carbone made it three Shark Defensive POYs in 2009.

One of NCT's recent graduates last month wasn't the athlete Fields or Carbone was, but nonetheless left an indelible imprint on Shark football.

Across his three-plus varsity seasons on the California Street campus, Joshua Michael Benyola seldom registered a blip on the Sharks' offensive radar.

From 2009-12, Benyola never threw a forward pass, nor did he ever catch a pass.

Of the Sharks' 9,938 rushing yards on 1,609 attempts from 2009-12, Benyola chipped in 13 carries for 54 yards - or less than one percent. His longest gain was 14 yards.

Of the Sharks' 140 touchdowns during that four-year stretch, Benyola never paid one visit to the end zone.

Yet in the post-Carbone era, Benyola, alongside linebacker Joey Berrios and defensive back Matt Breida, formed the 'Killer Bs' defense under defensive-coordinator-turned-skipper Charles Liggett.

Across his final three seasons Benyola made his presence known with a team-high 276 tackles, featuring 143 solos while notching 133 assists.

By blitzing opposing quarterbacks, Benyola totaled 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including seven sacks and eight pressures.

Like all special defensive players, Benyola had his share of "splash plays" causing seven fumbles and recovering two while notching an interception.

Recently, the two-time All-County football selection parlayed his success on the defensive side of the ball into signing a football scholarship with Division III's Baldwin-Wallace University Yellow Jackets in Berea, Ohio.

Baldwin Wallace is a four-year private, coeducational, liberal arts college. The school was founded in 1845 as Baldwin Institute by Methodist settlers.

Benyola, 18, was recruited as a linebacker by the Jackets.

Head coach John Snell begins his 12th season at the helm with a fine 71-41 (.634) won-lost mark. Last year, the Jackets opened with seven wins among their initial eight games before finishing 7-3.

Benyola, whose uncle resides in Pittsburgh, decided to concentrate on going to school near the Steel City.

On Benyola's short list of colleges included: Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. (home of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath); Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio; Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio; Saint Vincent College in Latrope, Pa. (home of PGA Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer) and Baldwin-Wallace.

Interestingly, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Benyola visited Geneva, Hiram and Mt. Union prior to visiting Baldwin-Wallace.

The reason: He had inadvertently misplaced the contact information for Baldwin-Wallace before agreeing to meet with school officials on the Berea campus.

"I respect the people I met with each of the first three schools. One coach met with me for 10 minutes," recalled Benyola. "But the level of how they met with me at Baldwin-Wallace was different.

"Coach talked to me for almost an hour. He talked to me about religion," said Benyola. "He talked about bringing in guys with character. He was more concerned about bringing in the right types of players into his locker room than just football players. That was fine with me because religion is important.

"In talking to other people at Baldwin-Wallace it was as if there's a silent confidence with the program," noted Benyola. "It's like they know they're good. It's kind of implied with everyone I met with."

On the coach's sales pitch, Benyola said, "Coach told me that he gives every player the same opportunity (to play). Some guys told coach, 'You didn't give me a chance.' He countered by saying if you work hard enough, the position is open. He said he doesn't care what grade you are."

Benyola, who said he was bored with the medical cluster at NCT, switched to computer design.

After graduating with a 3.2 grade point average, Benyola aspires to study sports management.

"Baldwin-Wallace is like the breeding ground for professional agents and there are a lot of internship opportunities in Cleveland with the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers," pointed out Benyola. "At this point, I'd like to be a college recruiter or someday become a high school head coach.

"I'd like to be a mentor to younger players," he added. "As long as they believe in themselves, there's a world of opportunities."

???Josh was born in Plano, Texas, the oldest of three boys to George Benyola and Pamela Poisson.

According to Josh, his father was an All-State pitcher and placekicker who attended Louisiana Tech. His father played in three games during the 1987 season with the New York Giants.

The Benyolas relocated to the Sunshine State before Josh's fifth birthday.

Benyola's athletic roots actually trace back to baseball, playing T-Ball at the Hernando County Family YMCA in Spring Hill. He recalls playing baseball until eighth grade.

Besides baseball, Benyola also participated in recreational football with the local Screaming Eagles.

Being "overweight in those days," he recalls playing O-line, D-line, tight end and middle linebacker.

In seventh grade he played for the Challenger K-8 Navigators as a defensive end under Brett Teitelman.

A year later, he lined up at fullback, middle linebacker and long snapper. He vividly remembers snapping the ball to his brother, who'd hold the ball for his father to kick it.

As an eighth-grader, Benyola said, "I was determined to make the basketball team and I did."

After matriculating to NCT, Benyola began his freshman football season on the JV level. He was called up three times during his frosh campaign and earned a JV letter.

"I mostly played special teams," recalls Benyola on his first season with the varsity Sharks.

Besides being a mainstay at inside linebacker over the next three years, Benyola played JV basketball as a freshman, wrestled as a sophomore, competed in weightlifting as a junior and senior, and competed in track and field for the last three seasons filling in as a shot putter and running the 100 and 200.

Make no mistake; however, Benyola's favorite sport is football.

"I enjoyed playing basketball. I mostly helped out defending, it's something I do well," he says. "I did wrestling, weightlifting and track to improve my game in football. I enjoy playing defense. I take a lot of pride in stopping people."

"As a third-string defender as a freshman no one respected me," recalled Benyola. "Before my sophomore year I worked so hard in the offseason that the coaches and other players started to take notice."

There's a reason Benyola's stock never stopped ascending: He kept pushing the envelope of success.

"As a junior, I remember dropping a potential interception to Sunlake," he recalled. "And we lost the game. I told myself I would work even harder in the offseason to never let that happen again.

"In my last game at unbeaten Springstead, I made a pick and on the next play Breida scored," said Benyola. "That touchdown iced the game. That's why I'll never forget that interception - it helped us win a game.

"Playing defense with my teammates is like taking away Christmas presents," noted Benyola. "I love stopping people from scoring; it's who I am."

Besides the crucial pick against Springstead in 2012, Benyola calls his role with Berrios as more than a symbiotic relationship.

"I can't remember the team, but I remember it was fourth-and-goal and short distance for a first down," said Benyola of his second best football moment. "At the last second, I told Joey we were going to blitz the 'A' gap. The offensive guard pulled and we both shot through and met the running back before the line of scrimmage. We hit that kid so hard, it not only got us the football back it knocked that kid out of the game.

"I look back at Joey and feel like he was my brother; my partner in crime," said Benyola. "Because of what happened earlier (Berrios was involved in a shooting), he'll never play football again. It's just really sad."

On his NCT football experience, "I progressively got better from my mistakes. I'm really hard on myself," detailed Benyola. "I feel like I feed off any negativity. Due to my parent's divorce, I had a rough childhood. To me, it's all about taking a negative situation and turning it into a positive one.

"I need to continue to work on becoming more explosive and being more football smart."

Despite his individual success, Benyola never achieved his ultimate goal: playing for a district championship football team.

"Our senior class spent a lot of time building a good rap," recalls Benyola. "On paper, yeah I believe we had the talent to go to the playoffs. But we had too many guys who didn't put in the time to be great - for some of those guys their heads weren't into it.

"We had a lot of guys who played hard and we had some cancers holding us back," he pointed out. "In the long haul, you have to have a team full of unity to reach your desired goals."

???Before reporting to school on Aug. 18, Benyola wanted to personally acknowledge the many folks who have contributed to his opportunity to play at the next level.

"First of all I have to thank God. It's due to his will that I have this chance," he said. "Without him, none of this would have happened.

"I also have to thank all my coaches, along with my parents. . My mom has MS (multiple sclerosis) and she has the potential to be paralyzed," described Benyola, choking up with emotion. "But she's never stopped doing things for her kids first. It's like she goes out of her way to make sure things are square with her kids."

On his legacy, "I could care less what I did on the football field," admitted Benyola. "I want to be remembered as a man of God and someone who made everyone feel good about themselves."

By the Numbers: NCT's Josh Benyola (2010-12)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


2010 32 43 75 0 2.0 0 3 1 0 0 0

2011* 44 46 90 11.0 2.0 1 4 1 0 0 0

2012* 67 44 111 8.0 3.0 7 0 0 1 0 1

TOTALS 143 133 276 19.0 7.0 8 7 2 1 0 1

* Denotes All-County selection.

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