Local Star Still Going Blue: Mendham’s Joe Beneducci talks about Michigan, Jim Harbaugh and How to Make YOUR Dreams A Reality
Mendham still claims Joe Beneducci. Ask anyone.
Okay–yes–he now plays for Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. Yes, he’s helping to establish a football league in China. And, yes, he’s studying at one of the most prestigious business schools in the country.
Mendham likes to think it gave Joe a good start.
Truth is, Joe is one of those guys who could’ve lettered in any round object you put in his hand. Joe is an intensely talented, genetically freaky, over-achieving human.
Oh, and he’s an IB scholar.
Despite earning accolades in three sports, Joe declined all college recruiting offers and filled out his common app like the rest of the world, gaining admission to University of Michigan the hard way—through academic success.
There, Joe played club baseball—which is an accomplishment but still seems of-this-world, right? And, he joined a fraternity, which is normal, no-slacker-here freshman effort. This is where the story becomes Joe-like: His fraternity brothers suggest to Joe to make a go for a roster-spot on the Michigan Wolverines. And he does it.
With try-outs one week away, no highlight video, and having done more college partying than working out, Joe decides to make a run for a Big Ten football team.
Seven days later, twenty-two guys show up at the Michigan facility with Beneducci. All are bigger than Beneducci’s 5-9 frame, and all in top shape, having worked out in preparation for the event.
Didn’t stop Joe. He arrives, determined to become a long snapper wearing Michigan blue. But soon Joe realizes a lot of the guys in the room are trying out for long snapper. So, when the Wolverine hopefuls break into groups, Joe hurries across the room to join the running backs.
Jay Harbaugh runs an RB drill that goes something like this: The younger Harbaugh throws a tennis ball to signal a change in direction. Catch the ball, change direction. Catch the ball, change again. The drill measures quickness and agility, and Joe is all over it.
But Harbaugh–presumably in error— wings the ball over Joe’s shoulder. Instead of assuming it’s a poorly placed ball, and letting it go to wait for the next toss, Joe makes a Joe-style, over-the-top, split-second decision that he isn’t getting beat: not by THAT tennis ball and not in front of THAT coach.
It isn’t the objective of the drill, yet Joe makes sure that fuzzy yellow ball doesn’t hit the ground. He makes a flying-leap, over-the-back acrobatic catch.
“Well done,” Jay Harbaugh says with a smile.
Later, in his dorm room, Joe gets the call from the older Harbaugh welcoming him to the team. “See you at mandatories,” the infamous head coach says.
Jim Harbaugh has been known to make his own refuse-to-drop-the-ball choices as well. Amid a NCAA hornets’ nest of issues, Harbaugh will attend thirty of his team’s thirty-eight satellite camps in twenty-one states and two countries.
What do the Wolverines think of Harbaugh, who has been associated with aggressive and controversial recruiting tactics?
“He would do anything for anyone on the team,” Beneducci says about his coach. “He’s a player’s guy.”
In 2015, the Wolverines went 10-3 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and trounced Florida in the postseason, 41-7, in the Citrus Bowl. Prior to Harbaugh, in 2014 and under Head Coach Brady Hoke, Michigan went 5-7 overall, and 3-5 in the Big Ten.
Do the math. Harbaugh doubled the number of wins from the prior season even without a full recruiting cycle. In 2015, Harbaugh entered the Michigan scene like Captain Jack Sparrow walking onto a dry dock, landing the three-star defensive end Reuban Jones and flipping four-star quarterback Zach Gentry from Texas to Michigan. The athletic 6-foot-7, 240-pound Gentry worked out at tight end after the 2015 regular season.
According to Beneducci, the Wolverines believe their coach will deliver a stellar recruiting class this year because “Harbough works harder than any other coach.”
Stellar, indeed. Rashan Gary, the number one overall pick out of Paramus Catholic, in New Jersey, will wear Michigan blue in 2016.
Harbaugh’s influence doesn’t stop with his recruits or his renowned gridiron acumen. Beneducci attributes the “best locker room in the country” to Harbaugh. From the camaraderie to the winning attitude and the respect for players of all abilities, Beneducci says it starts from the players’ belief that Harbaugh is “the best coach they’ve ever had.”
Perhaps most importantly, that passionate commitment is showing up in big moments on the field. Last year, with playoff hopes on the line, Michigan battled it out with Penn State. In what would be a stunning performance, Jourdan Lewis made an assurance to Harbaugh. “Coach,” Lewis said, “I got you, don’t worry.” And got him he did, running the ball back 55 yards in a spectacular return that eviscerated PSU hopes of closing the then one-score deficit. With the final 28-16 victory, Michigan was one step closer to a playoff bid, ultimately overtaken by Ohio State in its next match-up.
The perpetually positive Beneducci brings it all back to high school for our local athletes who want to play at that next level.
Joe has two pieces of advice. First, he says, “high school athletes should diversify.” Joe believes in playing multiple sports as long as possible. Joe sees this as the best opportunity to understand who you are and what you want to pursue. And, second, Joe reminds players to take risks. “You need to get past your fear of failure and do stuff that can fulfill your dream.”
Joe has studied Chinese as well as business at Michigan University and has recently committed to helping the AFLC or American Football League of China, bring the sport to the Far East. Check out the link below for more information.