User ID: Password:

September 10, 2013

Benedict A Rare Breed

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech offensive lineman Brent Benedict has dealt with some serious issues in his life, including the death of his brother, but the young man knows how to keep things light off the field

Brent Benedict missed nearly two seasons while recovering from a devastating knee injury, but has bounced back
and is now one of the few experienced pieces on Tech’s offensive line.

Andrew Miller doesn’t do a lot of talking, not even around friends and especially not around newspaper writers, television reporters and other media hounds. But his first witnessing of the man known as Brent Benedict left him totally speechless.

“He’s got a great coyote-skin hat that comes most of the way down his back, and the first time I met him, he was wearing that coyote-skin hat,” said Miller, a three-year standout on Tech’s offensive line. “He didn’t have a shirt on. He got out of the truck without a shirt on, wearing jeans and boots and that coyote-skin hat.

“I liked him right away. I think that’s why he and I are such good friends. We’re both different breeds.”

The funny thing is that Benedict actually isn’t all that odd. He just fits the profile of the typical Southern, country boy, a laid-back, slow talker whose big heart, outside the football field, only beats about eight times per minute. His blood pressure elevates only when a rod, reel and a fish are involved, or when pulling the occasional prank on unsuspecting teammates.

The South Carolina native likes to tell the occasional yarn. He has half the team believing that a scar from a knee surgery actually came from a shark attack. He also said his dad, Ed, the type who can fix just about anything and has owned several businesses over the years, wanted to name him “Oak.” Brent’s mom, Holly, refused.

“You know how moms can be. They cut out all the fun in life,” Benedict deadpanned.

But life hasn’t been all barrels of laughs and fishing for this 300-pound offensive lineman on Virginia Tech’s football team. Instead, it has produced its share of heartaches and forced him down unfamiliar paths, ones in which he never dreamed of traveling.

He’s now entering his third year in Southwest Virginia and as a player at Tech. He has dreams and aspirations.

Unlike any other player on the Hokies’ roster, he knows those plans can change – in an instant.

Though hard to believe given his current 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame and ability to bench press small houses, Benedict actually grew up playing soccer as a young boy. But that ended by the time he turned 8. After all, his older brother, Heath, played football, and Ed Benedict once played semi-pro ball in Texas. Football was in the family’s blood, and once the soccer transfusion ran its course, Benedict tried football and became hooked, too.

“I knew that was where it was going to be,” he said. “I knew that’s what I was going to do.”

Rather than send him to high school in South Carolina, his parents decided to send him to the Bolles School, a private boarding school in Jacksonville, Fla. It turned out to be a good move.

After sitting out a season to meet the NCAA’s residency
requirements, Brent Benedict started six games and played more
than 600 snaps at guard in his first season as a Hokie.

The Bolles School annually sends good football players to colleges around the country. In fact, more than 100 players from Bolles have played collegiately since 2000, according to the school’s website. Charles “Corky” Rogers ranks as one of the best high school coaches in the nation, having won more than 400 games and 10 state titles in 41 years of coaching, 23 at Bolles.

“It’s a great place and a great school,” Benedict said. “It’s very good academically and has a football tradition there. We won three state championships, and I played for Corky Rogers, the winningest high school football coach in state history. That was an experience. It’s something I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

Things went well for Benedict. He developed into a top offensive line prospect and received interest from colleges everywhere. Quite honestly, he may have been the best prospect in the Jacksonville area, which says something considering the level of talent in Florida.

But his world came crashing down in the spring of his sophomore year.

Heath Benedict died of an enlarged heart at the family’s home in Jacksonville. Technically, the coroner ruled the cause of death as cardia dysrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, related to the enlarged heart.

Heath had reaped a scholarship offer from Tennessee, but transferred after one year and landed at tiny Newberry College in South Carolina. He had been preparing for the NFL Draft, and the 6-5, 320-pound offensive tackle was set to become one of the rare Division II players to get drafted.

“It was over spring break,” Brent said. “We were back visiting relatives in South Carolina. It was the third or fourth day over spring break. We were trying to get ahold of him. He was back in Jacksonville training, and we were calling and calling and calling and couldn’t get ahold of him.

“We started calling around to local hospitals and everything else. One of our next-door neighbors was ex-CIA or Secret Service. A police officer lived across the street, too, and we just had them break in the front door, and they found him on the couch.”

Heath’s death pancaked Brent. Heath was more than an older brother. In a way, he was a father figure because of the eight-year age gap between the two. He offered insight on an array of topics, and he toughened Brent up when the two played football in the back yard.

The family buried Heath right next to his grandmother in Youngsville, Pa., the hometown of Ed Benedict. The family goes to Youngsville every Fourth of July for a family reunion, and they stop by the site to visit Heath’s grave and change out the flowers.

“That was tough,” Brent said of his brother’s death. “That was a hard thing to handle, especially as a kid. It was something I had to get through. You just have to deal and go on.”

Benedict spent the days and months after Heath’s death just trying to cope, just searching for a way to move forward. He slowly got back into the flow of everyday life, football guiding him, as usual.

Things were going positively in that aspect of his life. His size and play helped him earn scholarship offers from numerous schools, and he committed to Georgia before his senior season started.

Unfortunately, he finished his senior season in a crumpled heap – literally.

In the sixth game of the season, Bolles was in the process of destroying Yulee High School 68-0, and during the game, Benedict started jogging down the field to celebrate a touchdown with his teammates. Before he got to the end zone, he collapsed to the ground in agony.

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He also tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

“I got it good,” Benedict said. “We were up by 46 points and just running it down the field. It just went out, and I’ve got a big scar on my knee now.”

Benedict spent three days in the cardiac unit at the local hospital. Doctors feared an injury to an artery that carries blood to the lower leg. They also feared nerve damage.

“We’ll put you back together, but you’re done playing football,” they told him.

Benedict and his family found a doctor with a little more optimism – Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopaedic surgeon in Birmingham, Ala. Andrews does more than put limbs back together. He practically gives athletes their lives back, so Benedict and his family wanted him to do the surgery.

On Oct. 18, 2009, Benedict underwent a total knee reconstruction. Andrews repaired everything, which turned out to be the easy part. The hard part belonged to Benedict, who embarked on what turned out to be a two-year odyssey to get his knee fully healthy again.

“When they told me I was done playing football, I was thinking, ‘Life goes on,’” Benedict said. “You handle it, deal with it and move on. That’s how I thought of it.

“But Dr. Andrews told me I had an opportunity, and that he expected me to be back. That was what motivated me to get through those two years of rehab. That wasn’t a lot of fun.”

Fortunately, Georgia coach Mark Richt honored Benedict’s scholarship, and Benedict went to Athens, Ga., in the fall of 2010. He redshirted while getting his knee stronger.

Benedict got back on the field in the spring of 2011, a step in the right direction. The Bulldogs staff later moved him to guard, a hint that maybe his knee wasn’t quite 100 percent and that he lacked the athleticism to play at tackle.

In the end, it didn’t matter. In June of that year, he decided to leave the Georgia program. Benedict only said that things “didn’t work out,” and after leaving Georgia, he decided to look for another home.

He found one in Blacksburg.

Benedict nearly committed to Tech out of high school. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles recruited him the first time, but when Shane Beamer got wind that Benedict was leaving Georgia, he aggressively moved in to lure Benedict to Blacksburg.

Beamer had met the Benedict family on previous occasions. He served as a graduate assistant at Tennessee the year that Heath spent in Knoxville before transferring to Newberry College, so Beamer possessed a familiarity with the Benedict family. In the end, though, the total package sold Benedict on coming to Tech.

“Coach [Frank] Beamer having been here so long was a big draw,” he said. “His reputation and the tradition here, along with Coach [Mike] Gentry and the strength coaches. He’s well known and has a great reputation as well. Shane, having that connection and going that far back, that was part of it, absolutely.

“I really enjoy Blacksburg and the program. It’s been good. It’s a unique place. The culture here is different than anywhere I’ve been.”

Benedict sat out the 2011 season while meeting the NCAA’s residency requirements for transfers. Last season, he played in all 13 games and started six of them, playing more than 600 plays at guard in Tech’s offense.

He goes into this season as the Hokies’ top backup – and the most experienced. He figures to see plenty of action as the season rolls along. After all, the offensive line experienced numerous injuries a year ago, so his role will be invaluable.

“Brent had a great summer and has really worked hard,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “He’s been in the mix along the way, and I think he’ll fit in and help us in a significant role this year. I don’t know what it will be or how much it will be, but he’s a great kid and a big part of our depth and where we’re headed.”

Benedict thinks he knows where he is headed. He’ll be a senior next season, probably a starter, and if NFL dreams fail to come to fruition, he’ll possess a degree in residential property management. But he also knows that things tend to change. He knows it better than anyone else.

In the meantime, he plans to enjoy life. He and Miller share similar interests and like to have a good time. During a team meeting to start the second summer session, the two of them surprised everyone by sporting an early-80s look, with short shorts and tank tops and aviator sunglasses. New coordinator Scot Loeffler liked the ensemble and promised to dress similarly at some point over the summer.

“We try to have a good time,” Benedict said. “Off the field, you have to have a little fun.”

So if one sees Benedict on the street wearing his coyote-skin hat or his beloved cowboy hat, another of his cherished items, just understand that this is Brent being Brent, enjoying himself and having a good time.

Considering what he’s gone through over the years, he’s definitely earned it.