By Elyssa Parnell
NEWBERRY — Hard work, teamwork, and emphasizing that there are no weak links are how Benji Sease would describe as a good football team.
Linking two jobs together, Sease, the police administrator for the town of Prosperity, has officially taken on the assignment of coaching Newberry Academy’s new jayvee football team for the upcoming season.
But Sease’s football experience doesn’t just start here. Sease began playing college football for North Greenville, where he stayed for two years. Following that, he played offensive tackle at Newberry College for two years before graduating.
Sease’s son, Dylan, is a student at Newberry Academy. Dylan has high functioning autism, and does not play sports, but when Newberry Academy began their middle school team last year, Sease asked to help as the assistant coach.
He and his wife Jodi, also have two other children, Kadence and Gaines, who was named after Gaines Adams, former Clemson football player.
A tradition that Sease said began last year with middle school football was that after each player made it through the pre-season camp, they were each given a plastic chain link.
“The goal is that you are only as strong as your weakest link,” Sease said. “Everyone has to pull their own weight.”
If the player was caught without the link on their person, they had to run.
“You’d have thought it was gold last year, the way they always made sure to have it with them,” Sease said.
Sease said this year’s jayvee team will be made up with about the same kids as last year’s middle school team. This season will be one of the first since the 1990’s that the school has had a jayvee football team, according to Sease.
Last season, the middle school team won two games.
“We had to basically start from scratch,” Sease said. ” I expect us to do better than last year.”
Sease said he’s hoping for 16 players this year, as the team will be playing eight-man-football. “The kids play a true iron man — they don’t come off the field,” Sease said.
Last year’s middle school team was made up of students from fifth through eighth grades. The jayvee team, Sease said will be comprised of sixth through ninth grade students.
Brian Fitzgerald, Head of School for Newberry Academy said the team will play a mostly jayvee schedule this year, and are currently in the planning process to add a varsity team for the 2015-16 season.
“We’re trying to build up to it so that by the time they get to the varsity team, we’ll have kids that have played the sport before,” Sease said.
Newberry Academy’s JV team will play Laurens Academy, Greenwood Christian, Spartanburg Christian, Northside Christian, and King Academy (Batesburg) in their upcoming season.
“They’ll play a couple of the teams twice,” Sease said.
Sease said his hope is that the team will hold Spring practice this year, following the baseball season, as some of the players participate in both sports. The pre-season will start in August.
The games will be played at Newberry College, Sease’s alma mater.
“It’s kind of like deja vu to coach on a field you played on,” Sease said. “Other than there being field turf there now, it still looks like the same Newberry College stadium.”
Players to Watch
Sease said a few players, including Shield Sawyer and Will Barrineau were pretty quick. Daniel Bannister was also a team player, Sease described as having quickness and size to his advantage.
Bannister, Sease said, did all of the team’s kicking for last year on the middle school football team.He handled punting and kickoffs but the middle school team never attempted PATs, electing to go for two-point conversions instead.
Two-point conversions are commonplace in eight-man football, but this year Sease wants to expand his team’s options by working more with a placekicker. He hopes to add a leg from the soccer team to lessen the burden on Bannister.
Last year the team ran a lot of two tight ends, but because of the size of this year’s team, he thinks they can spread out a bit more.
“I want to try to utilize our quickness better by spreading our defense out,” Sease said.
Helping Sease with coaching is Rick Doran, along with Doran’s son R.J. that recently graduated from Laurens Academy where he played football.
“Most people his age wouldn’t volunteer their time like that,” Sease said. “He’s a good kid.”
Michael Taylor is also helping to coach the team. Taylor played football under Lon Armstrong at Mid-Carolina High School and has a son that will play for Newberry Academy. Clarke DeHart, head of the board of trustees at the Academy will also be helping. His son also plays for the team.
Josh Moseley, played at Newberry College and will also be volunteering his time to help coach.
Future of Football
So where does the money come from to operate a football program? Fitzgerald said the school began last year with donations from parents and wrote a line item into the athletic budget.
“Football is obviously an expensive sport to operate but also is a major revenue generator if run correctly,” Fitzgerald said.
Newberry Academy’s booster club assists with funding, but Fitzgerald said he is a firm believer that an athletic department needs to be able to sustain itself, especially once football is a component in the program.
Fitzgerald said that the school raised more than enough for last year through donations, which he attributes primarily to the fact that he believes parents really want to see a football team at Newberry Academy.
“Football games provide great social events for the school and the team itself is a great draw for the school,” Fitzgerald said.
Newberry Academy has great rivalries with many local independent schools in their athletic region, according to Fitzgerald, but they are basically the only one without a football team. After seeing the number of fans that showed up for the middle school games last year, he said he could only imagine what those rivalries will be like once they compete at the varsity level.
“Our search for the football coach for Newberry Academy was a unique one because we were not simply looking for a head coach for jayvee football, we were looking for a coach for an entire program,” Fitzgerald said. “I truly believe that Benji is the right hire to guide us through this year, a year that will be the building block to the future as many members of this team will be suiting up for varsity in 2015-16. He has an outstanding knowledge of the game and a great vision for the future of our football teams, but most importantly he has the demeanor with the children that will have a very positive impact for Newberry Academy athletics.”
Elyssa Parnell can be reached at 803-276-0625, ext. 108.