September 21, 2010

A touch of inspiration

More news about: Castleton State | Curry
Castleton State's Chad Bentz

Chad Bentz, better known as a Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos pitcher, is playing fullback for Castleton State.
Castleton State athletics photo

The Curry and Castleton State football teams are getting inspiration from former pro athletes under very different circumstances.

When former New England Patriots running back Mosi Tatupu died at age 54 earlier this year it left a void in the Curry football family. Tatupu had been an assistant coach with the Colonels from 2002 through 2007 and many of this year's players had been coached by him.

Castleton is seeing an example of hard work and dedication in practice each day through their 30-year-old fullback, Chad Bentz, who made it all the way to Major League Baseball despite having only one hand. The notches on his strikeout belt include Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki.

Curry head coach Skip Bandini is still emotional about the hole in his heart and his team created by Tatupu's death.

"He is the best friend you could have, the best teammate and the best coach on the field," Bandini said after his team fashioned an impressive 35-0 victory over Coast Guard on Saturday night.

"He made everyone feel good about themselves all the time."

The Colonels have a moment of silence for Tatupu before each game and nobody parks in his parking space. They also wear decals on their helmet in his memory.

"The first game it was very difficult to focus on football," Bandini said.

"He was like a Hall of Fame person. When Mosi talked to you, you felt like you played in the NFL 14 years, not him."

An outstanding person, but also an outstanding coach.

"He could coach on any level. He could coach in the NFL or Division III," Bandini said.

"I think he was one of the best special teams coaches in the country. We have probably won 30 perecent of our games in recent years because of special teams."

Once Bandini thought Tatupu was a little too passive in his coaching delivery.

"I told him had to pick up the pace; to coach at a higher intensity.

"He went out and did exactly that. He was a coach who was coachable."

Bandini recalled hearing about Tatupu's death at 6:30 in the morning from a member of the local news media.

"I was caught off guard. I didn't want to comment until I found out for sure. Then  I got about 40 phone calls from different people.

"It affected everyone at the school from the president on down."

Tatupu worked with the special teams and running backs, but Bandini said everyone felt a connection to him.

"If you played on defense, he still made a point to talk to you. He went out of his way to talk to people. He just had that gift," the Curry coach said.

And Bandini treasures the years he had with Tatupu on his staff as a very special gift.

Bentz was born with a deformed right hand and threw and caught with the same hand just as major league pitcher Jim Abbott did back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In fact, Abbott became a mentor to Bentz.

Bentz loved baseball and football equally growing up in Alaska. He began getting recruiting mail and noticed most of the envelopes were adorned with football helmets. Pac-10 schools and Michigan were wooing him.

But he decided to go the baseball route because he was left-handed. He pitched for Long Beach State, was drafted by the Yankees and pitched for the Expos in 2004 and Marlins in 2005.

He wound up in Vermont because one of his minor league stops was Montreal's minor league affiliate in Burlington.

He still has not given up on a return to the major leagues, but his athletic pursuits recently took a quite unexpected turn to football.

He coached a junior high baseball team where one of the players was Jake Alercio, son of Castleton State head coach Rich Alercio. Bentz stopped in Rich's office one day to talk about his son.

He said wistfully, "I wish I could play college football."

Being 30 years old, Bentz never expected coach Alercio's response. He said, 'Why don't you?'

"I must have responded 400 times, 'Are you serious?'" said Bentz.

He was serious and Bentz went home and asked his wife Christie for permission to play.

"She was all for it," Bentz said.

"I still can't believe I'm playing."

And he is playing. Bentz is no novelty act. He is a 265-pound fullback who has been successful in short-yardage situations. Both times he tried for the first down in third-and-short against Utica, he was successful. And when the Spartans got near the goal line, Bentz crashed over for the touchdown.

He has been a big boost to the second-year program.

"One of our problems has been that we are 18-year-olds playing against 21-year-olds," Alercio said. "He is a 30-year-old playing against 21-year-olds. He is not an every-down back yet, but when we put him in he is virtually unstoppable.

"We have a personnel package just for him."

Alercio said his left hand is so strong from pitching, that carrying the ball is not a problem.

"He might have the best ball security on the team," Alercio said.

Alercio actually saw Bentz on TV long before he knew who he was and it was not on a major league baseball diamond. NFL Films shot a documentary on high school football in Alaska and Bentz was in the film, picking up rocks on the field so the team could practice.

He will bring the film for a showing on the team bus during the trip to Washington, D.C. this week where the Spartans are playing their Eastern Collegiate Football Conference opener against Gallaudet.

You won't find a long list of one-handed major league pitchers who grew up in Alaska. And you won't find too many 30-year old college fullbacks. But Chad Bentz has made a career of defying odds.

A new season

This week everyone gets new life as the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference and New England Football Conference begin their games that really count. League play is on and teams like Nichols and Husson who stand at 0-3 suddenly are on equal footing with everyone else.

And even the New England Small College Athletic Conference teams finally get to play after watching and reading about everyone else playing football for what seems like half a season.

Nichols will try to make their start a distant memory by beginning 1-0 in the Boyd Division of the NEFC with its homecoming game against Western New England.

Nichols lost another tough one. Aftter falling 20-19 the previous week to Framingham State, the Bison lost 32-29 to Worcester State as Worcester's Tony Tokarz threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns.

Worcester State hosts Westfield State in its Bogan Division opener.

Gulls flying high

The Endicott Gulls look like a major player in the Boyd after rolling past Fitchburg State 56-14 with Phil Konopka passing for 224 yards and two scores. Ryan Carino and Neil Powers combined for 11 catches.

Endicott's high-flying offense figures to get a tough test in that Boyd opener as they meet a Salve Regina team that has impressed everyone with its defense.

Salve fell to Framingham 14-3 as the Rams' Kurt Leone completed 20 of 28 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown. James McCarthy was his main target with seven catches for 146 yards and the score.

Bears golden in trophy game

Western New England brought home the President's Trophy by edging Westfield State 17-10 with Phil Tsopanides establishing a school record for the Golden Bears by returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.

Undefeated and unscored upon

Maine Maritime went to 2-0 with its second shutout. The Mariners thumped UMass-Dartmouth 42-0 and have now outscored the opposition 99-0.

Matthew Rende ran for 169 yards and three touchdowns and fullback Jim Bower powered his way to 179 yards.

MMA rushed for 559 yards.

Cadets march on

The Norwich University Cadets extended their school-record winning streak to 11 games by beating former Empire 8 foe Hartwick 42-27. The Cadets had 501 yards of total offense, 365 of it on the ground. It was Norwich's first win against an Empire 8 team since Oct. 29, 2005, three-plus seasons before the Cadets left the league.

Plymouth State rebounds

Plymouth was back in form after its disappointing loss to Mount Ida. The Panthers blanked Bridgewater State 17-0. It was the first shutout loss for Bridgewater since 2002. Plymouth limited the Bears to 152 yards of total offense.

Quarterback J.J. Brooks threw to John Creamer for a touchdown and Ty Long ran for another.

Maritime magic

New York Maritime is 3-0 and looks more and more like a contender in the ECFC as the conference opens play this weekend. The Privateers outgunned the United States Merchant Marine Academy 41-34. The defense came up big whenever it had to as Maritime stopped USSMA inside the 10-yard line four times.

Joe Dickey, pressed into service at quarterback because of an injury has responded for the Privateers. He threw two TD passes to Erik Needles.

Husson done with Murderer's Row

Husson has been outscored 173-7 during its 0-3 start. Coach Niles Nelson has to hope that brutal early-season lineup of Otterbein, Springfield and Salisbury State, which thumped the Eagles 84-7 this past week, has steeled the team for ECFC play.

But Husson gets a tough draw there, too, as it must travel to SUNY-Maritime.

Freshman Ben Foss had his first collegiate catch and scored the first points for Husson this season

Mass. Maritime trimmed MIT 38-17 with Matt White scoring three touchdowns and accounting for 104 all-purpose yards. Now, MIT gets the Boyd Division opener nobody wants, a trip to Curry.

Mass. Maritime hosts Coast Guard in its Bogan opener.

Bambini catching on

Curry sophomore Robert Bambini had another big week, catching three touchdown passes. The 35-0 win over Coast Guard was the second straight shutout for the Colonels.

Bandini still thinks Coast Guard might be heard from in the Bogan race.

"They are a good team and very well coached," he said.

"We have a ways to go. Our defense has been good, but offensively we have to pick up the pace.

"We are extremely young.

"Bambini had a good year last season but he was hobbled by injuries. We think we have two of the premier receivers in the league with him and Victor Martinez. And there are others we can throw to when we go to the spread."

The Big Games

Will the real Plymouth State stand up? The Panthers were given a lot of love when it came to projecting the NEFC before the season. They were fortunate to get out of Castleton with a win against a second-year program and then stumbled badly against Mount Ida. Then, to take liberties with Dennis Green's famous quote, they were what we thought they were in shutting out Bridgewater State.

But are they? Now we're all playing for real and they must open the Boyd campaign on the road against UMass-Dartmouth.

The most intriguing game in the ECFC has Norwich visiting Mount Ida. I think the three contenders in that league are Norwich, Ida and New York Maritime. Norwich gets tested early on the road, but right now, off what the Cadets have have done so far, they look like the team to beat. Also, that 11-game winning streak is on the line.

And finally, we have NESCAC football. Middlebury's Donald McKillop will be padding his school and league passing records when Wesleyan comes to town. This could be a tough one for McKillop and the Panthers as Wesleyan has been energized by a new staff.

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter.

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