The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 14, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Coach follows his passion, and sons


Daily Item

---- — A lifelong passion for the sport and his love of young people prompted Selinsgrove businessman, and former Selinsgrove football player, Todd Benner, at age 44, to launch a second career of sorts.

Benner, owner of Selinsgrove Ford, played for former Selinsgrove coach Bill Scott from 1981 through 1983, and eventually followed his sons through the lower levels of the Selinsgrove program.

He coached eight years in the midget program and another year in junior high, before he got an unexpected opportunity.

Benner got a call last year from Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess, one of Benner's assistant coaches his senior year, asking him to join his high school staff. Benner accepted and has been the Seals' offensive coordinator the past two seasons.

Another added benefit is that Benner gets to continue to coach his son, Logan, a senior starter for the Seals, and eventually, his other son, freshman Garrett, who is playing junior varsity this year.

"Coaching has always been a major passion of mine and just being involved with the kids and getting involved with their lives, I didn't think I had a shot at this level because of working at Selinsgrove Ford and the time it takes to run a business," Benner said this week as the Seals prepare for their annual backyard rivalry game versus Shikellamy.

"Fortunately, the last couple of years, I have hired some guys who have stepped up and taken more of a major role here and make decisions which in turn affords me the chance to do what I wanted to do in life, and that's coach football.

And I am grateful that Dave Hess had the confidence in me to bring me on board,— he said.

Like many families involving a football coach and a football-playing son, the dinner conversation rarely strays far from pigskin talk, whether about high school or the family's favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers.

"We are always talking football. We are a football family," said Todd, noting that his wife of nearly 23 years, Lisa, "has really been turned into a football fan."

He said, "We are all about football, whether it is high school or the Packers, we are talking football 24/7."

That's just fine with Lisa, who has no qualms about football taking up so much of their time.

"My most wonderful memories of football are from growing up with my dad (Frank Englund Jr. of Downingtown) on the coach watching football," she said. "He would share different life lessons while I was sitting there watching the game with him."

She said that when her boys started playing and Todd began coaching them, "I was so excited for my boys to have that opportunity to have him as a coach."

She said she thought it would be only for a season.

But that was 11 years ago.

"I thought, pretty soon my boys will be in high school and I will have my husband back," she said.

But after Todd continued to coach his way through the program, she said, "I had to put myself aside. It's been a journey, but an amazing journey and I am willing to sacrifice my time with him for the sake of these amazing boys," she said, referring to the entire team.

"There are boys on that team with no father figure in their life and if Todd can be that guy that they can look up to, I am more than willing...He is a man of integrity and he has sacrificed as well. It is not easy to work two full-time jobs, and he literally has no time to himself.

"He loves football, but, more importantly, he loves the boys and genuinely cares about them as people, not just as football players."

Lisa said her job is easy, supporting him and being there for her husband and sons. I am their biggest fan, but he has got a tall order," she said.

If he were an NFL OC, Benner would probably have lost his coaching job after the Seals, torn about by the suspension of nine players for an off-field incident, finished 1-9, just two years removed from winning the Class AAA state championship.

"I think as soon as our last game was over, the kids put that behind them. They really have had the determination this year just to go out and have fun and play their hearts out, and it is a joy to watch these kids, he said.

He said the current seniors have engulfed the underclassmen, something that does not always happen, and has included them in everything they do.

"It has made this team so close, and it is a neat thing to look at. It doesn't matter if they are freshmen or sophomores, the seniors wrapped their arms around these guys and I think that is a big part of their success," he said, refering to the Seals' 2-0 start. And some coaches might have been more than ready to walk away.

The thought never entered Benner's mind.

"Last year, that whole situation, from a win-and-loss situation, was tough to come back from. But, if you are in coaching for just wins and losses, you are in it for the wrong reason," he said.

"We are in it to build these kids back up, not only the program, but give them confidence for not only this year, but as they go through life. That was the challenge and these kids have stepped up to that," he said.

And, he added, once practice starts, Lisa becomes a football widow.

You will not hear her complain, after knowing what the players and coaches endured a year ago.

"Through the pain of that year, he helped show them the possibilities and (encourage them) to press on and never give up. It is not always easy sticking it out in the tough times, but when you go through trials like that and you can look ahead and see the good that can come out of those trials, that to him is more important," Lisa said.

n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.