<
>

At Mt. Greylock, a potential gem in Benzinger

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Jake Benzinger spent much of this summer attending various college football camps and showcases. Like so many other would-be hopefuls, Benzinger was seeking an opportunity to catch the eye of a college coach who might be willing to take a chance on him.

Standing 6-foot-8, 260 pounds with a wing span of 84 inches, it was hard not to notice him.

As it turned out, it wasn't just Benzinger's dimensions which caught the attention of coaches, it was his pure athleticism as well. In fact, during these past hectic couple of months, the Mount Greylock senior offensive/defensive tackle had many college programs clamoring for his talents. Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Fordham and Colgate were among the suitors.

Albeit humbled by all the acclamation he had received from each of those exquisite institutions, it was late July trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. by Benzinger and his family that changed his life dramatically. Benzinger was invited to partake in the Wake Forest University Football Camp, and immediately fell in love with the school and the Demon Deacons' coaching staff. The feeling in return was mutual.

It was then when first year Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson saw enough of Benzinger to offer him a full scholarship. Naturally he accepted it on the spot. Clawson, who played his college football just up the road at Williams, was contacted by former Ephs head coach Dick Farley -- whom Clawson played for during the late 1980's -- about Benzinger. Clawson was intrigued, and after viewing some game film of Benzinger, decided to offer him an invite to attend his camp.

“Coach Farley told Coach Clawson about me and he was sort of instantly interested,” said Benzinger, who will likely redshirt next season. “He saw some film of me and really liked by foot work. The camp went really well for me and things just sort of took off from there. They feel I have the tools and athleticism to be a good offensive tackle.

"I believe Coach Clawson has the program on the right track. It might take a couple of years for them to reach the upper echelon of the (Atlantic Coast Conference) but I think it will happen. That is part of the reason why I chose Wake Forest."

Benzinger has started at the varsity level ever since his sophomore season. Coming out as a tight end as a freshman, Mounties head coach Shawn Flaherty felt there was more of a need to bolster up his offensive and defensive lines and told Benzinger he could start as a sophomore at the tackle position if he so chooses.

Rather than waiting on the chance that a starting tight end position might open up, Benzinger quickly jumped at the notion to move to the interior line, and has anchored the offensive and defensive lines ever since. Since that sophomore year, Benzinger has grown seven inches. Up until last season, he was playing running tackle before being moved over to strong tackle in Flaherty's system where he has excelled.

"Most of our plays are strong side-orientated," explained Flaherty, a former Mount Greylock player who is now in his 12th season at the helm having took over for legendary coach John T. Allen. "In theory your best blocker should be your strong tackle. It made sense to us as a staff to move Jake over to strong tackle and build around that. It has worked out quite well."

Benzinger says he understands the switch from tight end to the line was truly the right one because it allowed him the opportunity to be seen and coveted by so many top-notch football programs.

"There was a time when I did want to switch back to tight end but after giving it some thought and for the betterment of the team, I decided to remain at tackle," he said. "Looking back it really has paid off for me and has been a great experience."

Not only is Benzinger a prolific athlete (also flourishing on the school's basketball and baseball teams), he is a straight-A student, maintaining a 3.7 GPA.

"What tops Jake off is his academics," Flaherty said. "They are off the charts. Jake has the academic piece to go along with his athletic abilities. I think he serves well as a role model in terms of how others see how hard he has worked athletically but also how hard he hits the books. He is a naturally bright kid who understands that he still needs to work hard at it and continue to remain disciplined."

A considerable portion of Benzinger's recruiting process was aided by his father John, a former All-Yankee Conference player at UMass, and his mother Janice. Both realized the unlimited potential that lied within their son, and believed it was vital to bring it to the forefront. Together, they sacrificed countless hours contacting various schools and sending out game video.

"I owe a ton of credit to both of them," said Benzinger. "We went to a lot of camps this past summer and the reason I had these opportunities was because they drove me there and helped me meet with coaches. I was able to realize that most college coaches want to see you with their own eyes at their camps. That is what benefited me."

Adds Flaherty, "I give credit to both his mom and dad for playing a big role in getting film footage out there on him. I would make multiple copies of game films and Jake would gobble them all up. They started contacting schools and they took the initiative and said 'Hey,why not go for it.' I feel this is a real special achievement for Jake and I am extremely happy for him.

"As you know, we are not facing Division 1 prospects in the Berkshire County week in and week out, so I think it will be a mind-blowing process for him once he gets down to Wake Forest. The things he will be doing and learning will certainly be a positive. He will be going through a different training regiment, a different practice style and a different offense. Obviously it is a much-more complex game at college level and it will be considerably different than what he is use to up here. But I believe he can handle it."

Had it not been for the collaborative efforts of his family, Flaherty and Farley, it is anyone's guess as to what Benzinger's future might look like. College recruiters rarely venture to the Berkshires, though the region has shown the ability to holds its own in recent years.

Greylock, for instance, won three consecutive Western Mass. Super Bowl titles from 2010-2012. Last year the Mounties lost in the Western Mass. final to Hoosac Valley. From 2009-2012, Greylock enjoyed a 33-game unbeaten streak.

"Mostly why the brand of football is so good in the Berkshires is because of the toughness and physicality that is seen here," Benzinger said. "To be a player in this region you have to be a really tough kid. Especially because the team numbers all around are a little lower than in other parts of the state. Therefore you end up having to play both sides of the ball for the entire game which, I feel, is a true testament of just how tough the kids are up here and how well-conditioned all of them are."

Certainly with that type of mind set, it has played an integral role in Benzinger's overall development and skill set. Enough so that he is one of few fortunate high school players from the state of Massachusetts who will get to continue his football prowess at the highest collegiate level while earning a top-tier education to boot. However for the moment, all of that will have to wait. According to Benzinger, the task at hand remains solely around the Mounties upcoming season. Benzinger says his main objective is to help lead this team to a state Super Bowl championship.

When you take into consideration his level of talent as well as those of quarterback Brodie Altiere and running back Mike McCormack, such a quest seems to be a true possibility.