LA COSTA, CA -- The kid brings a smile and a knowledge of football that belies his age. How many freshmen are coaching varsity football in ultra-competitive North County? One. Just like La Costa Canyon High's Will Bennett is one of a kind. "He's a contributor,'' LCC head coach Sean Sovacool said. "He's got such a keen eye and ear because he is limited in some areas but enhanced in other areas." Yep, Will Bennett is different all right. Ever see a 14-year-old look as chic as this? Some people see Will and spot a teenager in a wheelchair. LCC players see Will and spot someone with style, his look topped off by a spiffy hat that would make Bear Bryant or Tom Landry envious. "His hat, that's my favorite part about him, the hat,'' LCC quarterback Garrett Krstich said. "He always comes out with a different hat and is always looking good.''
Good for Will. Good for LCC. Good for Darren Bennett, the former Chargers punter and Will's father. The Bennetts share the LCC practice field each afternoon and are nearly inseparable on game nights. They disburse their smarts on all things kicking to a group of youngsters getting instruction from two guys who obviously know the trade. Darren, a Pro Bowler, was a member of the Chargers' 40th anniversary team. Will has been observing kickers and punters since he was a toddler. "Will is like the refinement coach,'' Darren said. "He has a photographic memory, so he can watch a guy do something and when he does it wrong, he will quietly come up in the wheelchair and say, 'You dropped an inch off this way,' or 'Your plant foot was too far away.' "
The kicker is, Will is seldom wrong. "In spring ball, right at the very beginning, he told me my feet were off,'' said long snapper Hunter Christensen. "He said, 'Hey, move this one foot a little bit higher,' and then the snaps were right down the middle every time.'' Every time I visit Will, I leave feeling better and more appreciative of life. He has that effect on people, whether they are football players or football writers. "He gives us perspective,'' Sovacool said. "People don't know how lucky we are to have him. He's really a model for all of us. We might be complaining about something and then we look at Will and think, 'Hey, this is nothing.' " I'd give anything to make Will right -- so would anyone after meeting him. Instead, fate dealt him a bad hand, inflicting his body with muscular dystrophy.
Will needs a wheelchair to get around, not that it slows him. That's especially true in grasping the nuances of football, in which his mind races 100 miles an hour with a fountain of information. "He probably knows the game more than our coaches,'' Krstich said. "He definitely knows more than our players. "Once I sat with Coach Bennett and Will at a Chargers game, and Will knew every player, their whole background -- everything about them, stuff pro coaches would know. He loves football and has learned everything he can. You can ask him any football question and he has the answer.'' If you ever question why prep football is so much more than a final score, take in a LCC game. There's Will, talking to everyone from kickers to quarterbacks, from other coaches to, well, sneaking a peek at the cheerleaders. "It's fun helping people with everything,'' Will said. "And I enjoy spending time outside with the players.''
Sovacool didn't know the Bennetts before spotting Will at a Pop Warner game in which his younger brother, Thomas, was playing. Sovacool started a conversation and was amazed by Will's depth of expertise. He asked if he'd be interested in helping at LCC. "I said, 'Go ask your dad,' and he came back with Darren Bennett,'' Sovacool said. "It's neat how it has worked out.'' There goes Will zooming past others to distribute another tip. "It's just my knowledge of things and working with their technique,'' Will said, proudly. Will has a gift that others don't possess. "We would always say Thomas sees the world as a blur because he can run and is quick,'' Darren said. "Will sees it in perfect color because he is not moving fast and he takes time to read, see and recognize things that a kid that runs around never sees. "We were driving down the road in Australia after not being there for a couple of years and Will said, 'Dad, they painted that building purple; it was green last time.' I said, 'Uh, OK' -- that's just how Will is."
Will also breaks down film, scouting opponents' special teams play. Plus, he's someone whom Krstich never fails to saddle up to during games, regardless how the last drive went. "He is an inspiration,'' Krstich said. "I know that is a cliche, but he is just the nicest kid. No matter if I throw a touchdown or an interception, I always go and sit by him after every series. "He keeps me in check -- that I'm thankful to be playing and lucky to put the pads on. Being by him is like my good-luck charm.'' This one comes not with a four-leaf clover, but as a four-wheeled coach. Make no mistake, he is a coach. "Absolutely, he is part of it,'' Sovacool said. "I appreciate the effort because it can be difficult and it can wear him out. But he is always fired up and has a great attitude. He is inspiring because he does all that after obviously overcoming some obstacles.''
Will has another one on deck. He's scheduled for back surgery next week, which will temporarily keep him from players and friends. Darren said Will is already negotiating his return to LCC. "I said, 'Don't let him fool you, Doctor. He's not keen to get back to school work; he's keen to get back to the football,' " Darren said. He'll be back, wearing that spiffy hat and topping off any LCC football event with his passion and class, which is never far behind. Good on ya, mate. Thanks for reminding all of us the beauty of high school sports. For that, we take our hat off to you.
- Jay Pairs of the North County Times. 10/7/2010
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