When Joe Beneducci was chosen as a senior captain at the postseason football banquet last year following Mendham’s 3-7 season in 2012, he got up at the podium and made a prediction.
“When Jack (Horan), Anthony (Marconi), Ross (Coapman) and I were elected captains, I got up and made a promise that we would be in a state playoff game,” Beneducci said. “I said we would be undefeated or be in a state championship game, so I called it.”
Beneducci’s prediction has come to fruition as Mendham will face Phillipsburg in the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV championship at Rutgers University on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“It’s great to be going to the finals,” said Beneducci, a three-year starter at linebacker and running back who is also Mendham’s starting catcher on the baseball team and a starting guard on the basketball team.
Through 10 games this season, Beneducci has rushed for 336 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries, has 10 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown, and is third on the team in tackles on defense with 48 tackles.
While excelling on both sides of the ball, it is his leadership skills that Mendham coach Bill Carpluk has relied on this season.
“He is such a spirited player,” Carpluk said. “He’s a playmaker. He is always enthusiastic. His personality is as a leader. He quarterbacks our defense. He knows what everyone is doing on the field. He is very involved in the game. He asks a lot of important questions throughout the course of the week. I’ve known him for a while. He is responsible for getting people in the right spots, and you need guys like this who are smart. “
Beneducci’s leadership skills have been evident on the baseball diamond as well as in the football field. A four-year starter at catcher for Mendham, Beneducci is used to taking control of the defense just as he does with a pitching staff.
“Just as I have to develop a bond between myself and the pitcher, I have to do the same thing with the defense,” Beneducci said. “It is something that I like to do to help everybody play well as a unit. There is no ‘I’ in team. We are going to win together. It is a connection between the players on the field, whether seniors, juniors or sophomores. We are a unit. As a leader, I have to show the other kids what they can do, and to do what the team needs. One player is not more important than another. If we are going to win, we have to go out and do it together.”
In Mendham’s 47-26 victory over Colonia in the first round of the playoffs, Beneducci had his best offensive game of the season rushing for two touchdowns, and catching a third on a 34-yard pass from quarterback Jack Horan. Mendham’s success in the playoffs is something Beneducci thought was possible going back to the preseason scrimmage Mendham had against Colonia.
“In the scrimmage, we showed what we were made of,” Beneducci said. “In that game I thought that we were going to be a good team and we could go somewhere. It is ironic that we must (play) them in the states. I can’t take a lot of credit for that game. A running back is only as good as the guys he has in front of him. The offensive line blocked great. My sister could have gotten through those holes. I was just fortunate enough to get into the end zone.”
Carpluk echoed similar thoughts.
“He had such a great game against Colonia,” Carpluk said. “We had some pass routes in there designed for him against Colonia that we knew that they would have difficulty covering. We don’t have a great speed in the backfield, but Joe has great hands and he is physical. The best thing he does is that he shows up every day. He is enthusiastic and excitable in practice. He practices at a fast pace. He keeps everyone moving at a fast pace. His enthusiasm is contagious. Joe keeps everyone’s spirits up, and it has translated to success on the field.”
On defense, Beneducci and Anthony Marconi lead the Mendham defense from their linebacker positions, Beneducci on the inside, and Marconi on the outside.
“We have played together since we were sophomores,” Beneducci said. “We have a blast on that side of the ball. I have to contain the play, and Anthony comes down from the side and fills it. The last couple of weeks, Everybody has been doing what they have to do. It has made for a good run so far. “
Beneducci has not decided where he will be attending college next year. He is looking to continue his baseball career at the next level, and is looking at the University of Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina and Villanova, while majoring in business. A switch-hitting catcher with a good arm, and skills at blocking the plate, Beneducci is hoping to find a spot on a Division I program next year. At the same time, he does realize that his football days are coming to an end.
“There’s not a lot of demand for a 5-8 running back who is not very fast,” Beneducci joked.
While breakaway speed may not be Beneducci’s best skill on the football field, his contribution to Mendham’s success in 2013 can not be measured in a 40 yard dash. . There are plenty of ways to contribute on the field, and for Beneducci it was his confidence and his leadership. In baseball from his catcher’s position, Beneducci believes his best strength is being able to see the entire diamond and have his teammates make adjustments. It is just the same as on the football field. You have to see more than just one player on the opposing team, and help bring out the best in your teammates. In 2013, Beneducci has done just that. It is why his prediction of being in a state championship game has come true, and why Mendham is one victory away from claiming a state championship.