When West Virginia State University starts its spring football workouts in about a month, there will be no “co” in defensive coordinator Nick Benedetto's job title.
Yellow Jackets head coach Jon Anderson, who worked as co-defensive coordinator with Benedetto last season, will let Benedetto call the defense himself next season. The promotion was announced last week.
Benedetto, 28, joined Anderson’s staff last season at the NCAA Division II school in Dunbar, near Charleston. Benedetto left Grand View University, an NAIA power in Des Moines, Iowa, for the chance to coach with Anderson.
“He’s a tremendous man to work for, and he’s given me a lot of freedom to run the defense,” said Benedetto, a 2004 Crystal Lake South graduate. “He’s definitely a very good mentor for me, being a younger coordinator.”
Grand View went on to win the NAIA national championship, while State was 0-11. But Benedetto has more coaching responsibilities at a higher level with the move.
“When I had the opportunity to start a staff, [Benedetto] was one of the first guys I wanted to get a hold of because I knew of his football IQ,” Anderson said. “He was a young coach on the rise and a guy with very similar beliefs and philosophies that I have. I knew it was going to be a great fit.”
Benedetto played college football at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota, an NAIA power. He started three years at cornerback, and the Cougars were 54-3 during his time there. Anderson was USF’s linebackers and special teams coach, which is how they became acquainted.
After graduating from USF in 2009, Benedetto played Arena League football for one year, then worked as a graduate assistant for two years at South Dakota. He spent one year with head coach Mike Woodley at Grand View before Anderson invited him to West Virginia State.
Benedetto’s father, Frank, has been a longtime assistant football coach at South and played at New Mexico State. Nick knew early on he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
“When I was in seventh grade, I started drawing up football plays in class,” he said. “Coming from a coaching family, and the great experiences I had playing, I wanted to give those opportunities back to young men that I got to coach.”
Benedetto earned his bachelor’s degree in math from Sioux Falls and his master’s in sports management at South Dakota. At one point he thought he might teach high school and coach, like younger brother Tony is doing in Texas, but he opted for college.
Anderson said he called the defensive plays for the first eight games, then let Benedetto take over the last three. Anderson saw what he needed to let Benedetto run the defense himself.
“I feel really comfortable giving that up to him,” Anderson said. “That’s a hard thing to do because that’s one of the most fun things to do as a coach, calling plays. I really enjoyed that, but his ability and knowledge will free me up to do other things to make our football team better.
“There’s only one way to get good at calling plays, and that’s just to do it. I don’t know if you’re ever really ready, you just have to do it. I did the same thing, you just have to convince one person that you’re ready for the opportunity.”
Benedetto said he drew knowledge from people everywhere he has played or coached, those like Anderson, Woodley, former USF head coach Kalen DeBoer and former USF assistant Chuck Morrell.
“It’s not just one guy,” Benedetto said of now calling the defense himself. “It’s not about one guy. We preach that to our players all the time. It’s everyone trying to achieve one common goal.”
Benedetto said the coaches figured their first season would be rough. The Yellow Jackets took their lumps in the Mountain East Conference, which they hope was a character builder for the staff and the players as well.
“We took a program over that is a rebuilding project,” Benedetto said. “We have a lot of good kids who have bought into our system and philosophies that we want to build around. It’s a project, but I know we’re headed in the right direction.”