Benet's Beneventi: Stanford's next great QB?

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Benet's Beneventi: Stanford's next great QB?

Baseball players dream about hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series.

Basketball players dream about making a game-winning shot at the buzzer to win the NCAA or NBA championship.

And quarterbacks dream of completing a pass for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining.

Jack Beneventi knows the feeling.

"Personally, that is the dream that every quarterback has," said Benet's 6-foot-6, 190-pound sophomore quarterback. "But the biggest dream I have is to take my team Downstate, to win the state title."

In last Saturday's heart-stopping 26-24 victory over Downers Grove North in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoff, Beneventi guided Benet on a 65-yard scoring drive with 1:24 to play.

Without the benefit of any timeouts, he completed 13-yard pass on fourth-and-five to Jack Toner at the five with four seconds left, then hit Toner in the back of the end zone to overcome a four-point deficit.

"I was trying to stay calm and make sure my teammates were calm and able to work quickly," said Beneventi, who completed 26 of 42 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. "We had to get to the line and drive down the field and not have to make a desperation play."

In his first year on the varsity, Beneventi, who turned 16 on Nov. 6, has converted a 1-8 team that scored only 46 points a year ago into an 11-1 state semifinalist. Benet will host top-ranked Lincoln-Way East (12-0) on Saturday in Lisle.

"I hate the word moxie. It bugs me. It is overused by the media," Benet coach Pat New said. "But that's what he's got. Other coaches say he has 'it,' the ability to win games. That is such a great quality for a quarterback. He has arm strength but the ability to win games is what makes him a valuable asset.

"Against Downers Grove North, he never panicked. He kept throwing the ball...no timeouts, 65 yards, 1:24 to play. It is remarkable that he has such poise and confidence for such a young guy. Success hasn't gone to his head. He maintains his humility."

Beneventi's reputation will soar to another level if he leads Benet past Lincoln-Way East. He has what it takes. In 11 games, he has completed 178 of 263 passes or 68 percent for 2,258 yards and 20 touchdowns. And the Redwings have a running threat in junior Porter Ontko.

"Lincoln-Way East is the best team we have played all year," New said. "Just look at their record. It speaks for itself. They have great team speed. What makes them dangerous is their quarterback (Northern Illinois-bound Tom Fuessel). He can beat you with his arm or feet. Our defense is good but we have to score points if we expect to play with them."

Beneventi began playing basketball and football in third grade. Because he was taller than most of his classmates, basketball was his primary sport. As he got older, however, he fell in love with football.

"I like having the weight on my shoulders, the pressure to make plays, knowing you can't make turnovers, that you have to make completions. I like that challenge," he said.

As a seventh grader, playing for the Glen Ellyn Golden Eagles, he got a good education in quarterbacking from coach Mark Kramer. "He had 100 plays in our playbook. He challenged me on different reads and pass routes. I give him credit for teaching me a lot and challenging me at a young age," Beneventi said.

He chose Benet over perennial football power Glenbard West because he felt it would be more academically challenging and he wanted to play for Pat New, Benet's new coach. But even he didn't expect to turn the program from 1-8 to 11-1 in one season.

"It is shocking to have the season we are having," he said. "But everybody worked so hard in the off-season. They were so determined, you could feel something very special was going to happen. All the seniors made it clear that they were embarrassed by 1-8. They wouldn't be 1-8 again.

"Being 11-1 is a great season for any team. For this team, it is very, very special. We have guys who make plays at every position. We don't have a lot of size but every player plays hard and makes plays for us."

It has been a surprising season for Beneventi, too. Last year, he was listed at 6-foot-5 and 150 pounds. In the off-season, he gained 40 pounds by lifting weights and boosting his calorie intake with protein shakes and consuming peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He hopes to weigh 215 as a junior.

He never ceases to improve his skills. He has worked with noted quarterback guru Jeff Christensen since seventh grade. He has polished his throwing mechanics and improved his ability to read defenses and gotten a step or two faster.

But nothing can change the fact that Beneventi is a conventional pro-style, dropback, pocket passer, not a dual threat quarterback in a spread offense.

Although his mind is focused on Lincoln-Way East and the remainder of his high school career, it isn't too early to be thinking about lies ahead at the next level. "Option schools, where quarterbacks run with the ball, wouldn't interest me. Stanford is my dream school. I love their pro-style offense. Andrew Luck is my idol. Tom Brady, too," he said.

Although he hasn't heard from Stanford coach David Shaw, Beneventi is planning to attend Stanford's camp this summer. "I want to show them what I can do," he said.

Can Beneventi be Stanford's next great quarterback? The list is long and distinguished...Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Bobby Garrett, Don Bunce, Mike Boryla, Guy Benjamin, Steve Dils, Turk Schonert, Jim Plunkett, John Elway and Andrew Luck.

"Notre Dame is very interested. Jack went to their camp last summer. Illinois called. And Northwestern is interested," New said. "After this season, we'll have a better idea of where he stands. He is the kind of kid who could get caught up with the Notre Dame mystique.

"But Brian Kelly's offense isn't what he is running here. He is more of a pro-style quarterback like Alabama or Georgia. Jack provides me with the best chance of meeting my favorite coach, Alabama's Nick Saban. I'm waiting for that call."

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