Benedict, projected NFL draft pick, found dead at home

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Heath Benedict, a two-time Little All-American offensive lineman from Newberry College in South Carolina, was found dead on a couch in his home.

Jacksonville police said no foul play is suspected in the death of the 24-year-old Benedict, a 6-foot-4¾, 321-pound senior who had high hopes of being selected in the NFL draft next month.

Benedict, who redshirted at Tennessee as a freshman in 2002 before moving on to Newberry, was a native of the Netherlands. He played high school football at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J.

"He was a big, tough man, but he had a very gentle heart," Newberry president Mick Zais said. "He was a teddy bear."

Jacksonville police spokesman Ken Jefferson said Benedict's body was taken to the medical examiner's office to determine the cause of his death. He was found dead Wednesday evening.

"At this point I have no cause of death, because it is pending further study,'' Jesse C. Giles, the city of Jacksonville's deputy chief medical examiner, told ESPN.com's Mike Fish. "So I can't say it is one thing or another. The only thing I can tell you is there is no trauma. Nothing can be decided until additional studies are carried out, primarily toxicology.''

Giles said the city's toxicology lab has a heavy workload, adding that it could possibly be several weeks before results are available. He said the toxicology findings would help determine if drugs or alcohol were a contributing factor.

"[Benedict] was found at home in early decomposition,'' Giles said. "And an autopsy was done and we're waiting for the toxicology and additional records.

"I have ordered things and it will take a while. It depends on what is found, if anything. Also what else is ordered after additional records are obtained, if anything.''

Benedict was ranked the No. 4 guard in the draft by Scouts Inc. and projected as a fourth-round selection in April.

"Right now, we're all just trying to figure out what to do," Newberry assistant coach Ike Allred told The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C. "Obviously, we're all just praying for Heath and his family at this time."

Benedict played high school football at the Peddie School and moved to Greer, S.C., with his family. Following his senior season at Peddie, he was named a Parade All-American, played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and received a scholarship at Tennessee.

According to the report, Benedict withdrew from Tennessee after his redshirt freshman season and returned to Greer, where Newberry coach Zak Willis offered him a scholarship. Given a second chance, he became a stronger student and locker room leader, earning multiple small-college and Division II All-America honors his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

Last month, before the NFL scouting combine, Benedict said he was looking forward to representing Newberry in the NFL, according to The State.

"Newberry's a great school. I really enjoyed my four years there and now I have the opportunity to come from there to the NFL," Benedict said a month ago, according to the report. "I'm always going to be grateful for the opportunity they gave me. I'll always be a Newberry Indian."

The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Mike Fish contributed to this report.