RUSHING PAST THE COMPETITION — Ethan Benz rushes past a Lewiston-Porter player, during the Springville-Griffith Institute team’s last game of the season. Photo by Dave DeLuca.
SPRINGVILLE — The number 24 has a special significance in the Springville football program. The number has been worn by a former Connolly Cup finalist, a New State Player of the year and many others who have represented the purple and gold. Its meaning reaches much farther than just talent, according to Springville coach Rob Valenti. It represents a running back who demonstrates leadership and commitment to the game of football. This year, the No. 24 was worn by Ethan Benz. The senior running back and outside linebacker became the third Benz to wear the number, joining his brother, Derek (2011), and his father, Tom (1979).
All three were three-year varsity players and captains, in their respective senior years. Tom Benz was the captain of the 1979 team that made it to Ralph Wilson Stadium, known as Rich Stadium at the time, for the first time in Springville history.
A 56-0 blowout win against Lewiston-Porter High School marked the final high school football game for Ethan Benz, who is now joining his brother and father, as Springville football alumni.
“Ethan has an extremely quiet demeanor,” said Valenti, about his senior standout. “He’s not a ‘yeah-yeah guy’ or a ‘rah-rah’ captain; he’s a leader by example. His actions do the most talking. When Ethan does speak in the locker room, people listen, because certainly he has something to say. I think his teammates respect his versatility, his work ethic, his focus and his demeanor. As a coach, I do the same.”
A three-year varsity career saw Benz accumulate more than 1,200 all-purpose yards. Valenti called Benz one of the most versatile players that he has ever coached. The player has led Springville in receiving, each of the last three years, as well as being one of the team’s leading rushers. That versatility was on display against Lew-Port. Benz scored Springville’s first touchdown on a 6-yard run, and then he made an acrobatic, leaping touchdown catch, later in the game.
“I call him a shark because he’s got that hunger. He always has to keep moving,” said Valenti. “We try to put him in positions to succeed and using his skill set, in the best way possible. He’s not necessarily the kid you try to pound up through the A-gaps; he’s going to be able to get to the edge and turn that corner.”
Benz has been a contributor for the Springville team since 2011, when he was called up to varsity, as a sophomore. During that season, he led the team in receptions and receiving yards, on his way to being named a second team all-star. Benz also returned an interception for a touchdown in the Chuck Funke B-Bowl Championship game against Tonawanda. He was near the team lead for tackles, as well.
“When I think of Ethan, I think about big hits. I think about big plays,” said Valenti. “As an edge guy, he’s disciplined and he’s smart. He has what we call ‘crew’ responsibility. He’s looking for counters, reverses and wheels and stuff coming back to him. He does that really, really well because he’s very disciplined and focused.”
Benz was also a second team all-star, as a junior, and was a key component to one of the top rushing attacks in all of Section VI. Springville was the only team in Section VI to have four players rush for more than 400 yards, on the season. That player was one of them, accounting for 429 yards.
While Benz’s time on Pop Warner Field is over, he has been a part of 14 wins, during his time on the varsity team and has taken a trip to the stadium, just like his father. Off the football field, Benz is also a four-year letterman on the basketball team and also competes in outdoor track.
“If you were creating a captain out of a kit, 99 percent of what you would pull out, you’d pull out Ethan,” noted Valenti. “We talk all the time about walking right, doing the right thing and having a little bit of integrity. All of those characteristics really just exude his personality. He’s really one of the best we’ve had, in terms of on the field and off the field stuff.”
The player is the son of Tom and Nina Benz.