Although it has been more than a decade since Ryan Benjamin played defensive tackle at River Ridge High School, on most afternoons he can still be found at his old high school stamping grounds in New Port Richey, Florida. These days, however, he wears a whistle around his neck and has a far different role.
On Friday, September 2, the River Ridge Knights defeated the Fivay High School Falcons, 17-14, in Benjamin's first game as the head coach at his alma mater. That earned Benjamin another first: He was named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' High School Coach of the Week for Week One of the 2011 season.
The Knights won the game in the final two minutes when Phil Molina blasted a 53-yard field goal. Molina had missed a 51-yard try earlier in the game but Benjamin didn't hesitate to send his senior kicker in to try again after Fivay had tied the game on a 45-yard scramble by quarterback Andrew Meyer. It was a gamble; with 1:22 left, the Falcons would have had good field position to drive for the winning score had Molina missed again.
Of course, clutch special teams plays weren't foreign to the Knights' new coach. And neither was the NFL football atmosphere Benjamin and several of his players had the opportunity to experience on Thursday thanks to the Coach of the Week Award.
Benjamin went from River Ridge to the University of South Florida to play long-snapper, and in 2001 he signed with the hometown Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. He had short stints with the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears before returning to the Buccaneers at a rather fortuitous time. As the Bucs' long-snapper for the last 13 games of the 2002 season, including the playoffs, Benjamin took an unforgettable ride to Super Bowl XXXVII. He won a Super Bowl ring when the Bucs defeated Oakland 48-21, and that impressive piece of jewelry was on his finger when he arrived at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday along with four of his young charges.
Benjamin had never been to the new One Buc Place, however – his former team moved there from their previous digs in 2006 – and he was suitably impressed by the state-of-the-art facility.
"It makes me want to come back and play," said Benjamin after a thorough tour of the place. "This facility is outstanding. It's phenomenal. It's first class all the way, and the program deserves it. "
As part of the Coach of the Week award, Benjamin was also presented with $1,000 to go towards River Ridge's football program.
"It's really exciting," Benjamin said. "I owe it all to these kids. They're the ones that are making me look good by doing what they're doing. They're working hard, and they deserve everything that comes their way. There are 10 other coaches that we have on staff, and they're all putting in time and they're committed to these kids' success."
The Buccaneers will honor 10 high school coaches from Central Florida during this year's prep football season. A Coach of the Year, who receives an additional $1,000 for his football program, will be selected from the 10 weekly winners at the end of the season. The Coach of the Week program aids in the development of youth football, which has a positive influence on young athletes and the communities in which they live.