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Published: October 29, 2009 11:20 pm 

HS FOOTBALL: Benoit booted GI into semis

By Nate Beutel
Niagara Gazette

Nate Benoit admits he was nervous.

But the way the Grand Island junior calmly booted the game-winning 42-yard field goal last week against Williamsville South — in the rain, on a chewed up game field, with seven seconds left, on the road, in the playoffs — you could never tell.

“Sometimes more pressure is better I guess,” Benoit said with a smile at practice this week.

One person that was smiling from ear to ear was GI coach Dean Santorio.

“That kick was no fluke,” Santorio said. “He’s worked very hard, so to see him come through like that was great.”

To even see him on the gridiron would have been an afterthought just a couple years ago. Like most youngsters on the Island, Benoit was first drawn to soccer. He would continue to play the sport until his freshman season when good friend, and football player, Ed Gauthier got in his ear.

“He kept telling me I’d be good at it and I would really like football,” Benoit recalled.

Admitting to himself that he was probably just an average soccer player, Benoit made the switch for his sophomore season. He kicked well for the JV squad and by year end, Benoit began to feel like he made the right choice.

“It took a little while, but I got a lot more consistent,” he said.

Santorio added, “He wasn’t a natural by no means, but he kept working at it, fell in love with it and made it his passion.”

This past offseason he enrolled in some camps and came back even more confident in the fall upon moving up to the varsity. Add in daily work with special teams coach Mike Stauffer, holder Joel Klock and long snapper Joe Connors and there was no way Benoit was missing that kick last week.

"We spend at least 15 minutes two or three times a week just kicking the ball from different spots and we always end with a 35, 40 or 45 yarder to win it,” Santorio said. “And he’s pretty consistent with those. So I think last week, he just did what he does in practice.”

And he’s been doing it all year. He’s been money on his extra points and has given a the Vikings a very valuable weapon once they get inside the opponent’s 30-yard line, according to Santorio.

In fact, Benoit has become such a weapon as a junior that his name is beginning to pop up in recruiting circles. Remember, Denver Broncos punter Brett Kern is a GI grad and his high school teammate Mike Feathers turned down Division I kicking offers to do track and field at Clemson.

“I’d put him right up there with where those guys were as juniors,” Santorio said. “The biggest similarity is consistency.”

Benoit said he is good friends with Kern’s father, Niagara Power president Cal Kern, and that the elder Kern has offered to help him in the recruiting process.

For now, though, he’s focused on helping sixth-seeded GI spring a second consecutive upset, this time against No. 2 Hamburg in the Class A semifinals at 7 p.m. today.

“We feel like we’ve been a much better team lately and hopefully we’ll continue that trend this week,” he said, while admitting that he hopes this game doesn’t come down to a field goal in the waning seconds.

If it does, though, “I’ll be ready,” he said with a chuckle.