FITCHBURG, Mass. - The journey of Fitchburg State Assistant Football Coach Brad Bentz is an interesting one to say the least. From walk-on defensive lineman for the 2013 National Champion Florida State Seminoles, Coach Bentz is now the defensive line coach for the Fitchburg State Falcons football team.
After joining the coaching staff in the first week in August 2016, Bentz jumped right into things. "Coming in last minute you had to learn not only the playbook but the players names and personalities," Bentz said.
In 1999, Bentz began his football career down in Palm Beach County Florida, where he played the sport for the majority of his life. In high school, Bentz was a two-sport athlete playing football and lacrosse. After high school, Bentz received scholarship offers from Division III lacrosse teams, but was accepted to Florida State University and decided to walk-on and play lacrosse. Unfortunately, he injured his achilles and felt he was just "too burnt out with the sport." - His passion remained for football.
In the spring of 2013, Bentz decided to walk-on with the Florida State Seminoles football team as a defensive lineman. After some paperwork, he sat down and met with coaches who explained this wasn't a free ticket for fans to stand on the sidelines on gameday. After the mental processing, they brought the remaining players out for a practice, and if you proved your worth you lived to see another day as a Seminole.
Bentz did just that. He stayed through spring and summer ball and was even invited back for fall camp. A typical day began with a 6:00 AM workout, classes on campus from 8:00 AM until around noon. He'd then grab some lunch, head over to your first meeting at 1:00 PM, followed by a three hour practice, just to round out the day with dinner and homework. It is difficult for walk-ons because the school is not allowed to feed them like they do scholarship athletes, so Bentz had to fend for himself, rinse and repeat for 100 days or so.
Most importantly Bentz knew his role: "I knew I wouldn't be a key component to the team's success....I knew my role was a scout guy to help get the offense ready," he said.
In October of 2013, the #5 ranked Seminoles took on the #3 ranked Clemson Tigers in a big matchup. That week in practice, Bentz helped the team prepare by mimicking the game of 2017 NFL sack-leader and ex-Clemson Tiger defensive end Vic Beasley Jr..
For the Seminoles they had a star-studded roster with many players going onto having NFL careers in the following years: Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Devonta Freeman, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, and Cameron Erving just to name a few.
To Bentz, these guys were his teammates and guys he looked up to. Telvin Smith (outside linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars) was, "the heartbeat of the team, the guy who got everyone going...him and Jameis would be chirping at each other in the huddle at practice" and this would get guys fired up, according to Bentz.
Also Timmy Jernigan (defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens), "a quiet guy but very intense...just a great teammate who really taught me some things as far as techniques," Bentz added. Many of these players were getting ready to begin their professional football careers in the NFL, but for Bentz he "had a little bit more of a focus on academics too so [his] mentality was never to make football a priority."
During the 2013-2014 college football season Bentz did manage to play two regular season games. The first game he played was against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
"First play I was in there I made a tackle, I came off the double team, wrapped around, went down the line, and made the tackle, I was so psyched. My second play I got distracted the ball was snapped and I was on my back," he recalled of his first DIV. I college football action.
The second game he was featured in was against the Idaho Vandals. "I got to play two series...it was a lot of fun because they were still trying to pass the ball so I got to do some pass rushing, I got close a few times," he said.
Opportunities are something Bentz seems to never take for granted, "the fact I got in two games is more than most walk-ons so I'm grateful for that."
The National Championship is the biggest stage in all of college football and for Bentz, it was an experience he will never forget.
"It's pretty cool when you get treated like a complete pro athlete out there," Bentz said about staying in nice hotels, eating at dining halls with five-star meals, police escorts everywhere, and just, "getting wined and dined everywhere we went." But practice and preparation stayed the same as it did all season long.
Sitting under the lights right before kick off was "kind of a weird feeling" for Bentz
"You know you're not gonna play...in the warmups, I'm lit, just thinking 'if I could get in', you know...I'm not 6'6" or 300 pounds and I don't run a 4.4 (forty) but I could kill somebody right now," he said on the feelings before the game.
For the walk-ons, it's all about keeping the sidelines and fans energized. "On the sidelines you have all the walk-on guys just hanging out together and our strength and conditioning coach actually made sure we kept everybody hyped...every game was like a party for the walk-ons," Bentz said about being on the sidelines of a major division one football program.
Bentz went onto play football for Durham University in England where he met a lacrosse player named TJ Garske - former sports information director at Fitchburg State University - through mutual friends.
TJ and Bentz were both applying for jobs, but TJ had a connection with head football coach Pat Haverty at Fitchburg State University. Bentz forwarded his resume to Coach Haverty but did not hear back for a while. When he returned to the states he was planning on coaching a local high school team in Florida when he got the interview for the Falcons football program. With camp right around the corner, Brad had to get adjusted to the Fitchburg State atmosphere rather quickly.
"Working for [Coach Haverty] who puts that much into this and cares that much about his players is awesome," Bentz said. "The amount that he has taught me in the short time I have been here is that mentorship I was looking for. It sets the foundation early in my coaching career to have a guy like that who is willing to sit down and teach me things is incredible," he added.
After a 5-5 season in 2016 the Fitchburg State Falcons hope to build on and continue to grow, and Coach Bentz will have his hand in the process this time.
During his time at Florida State his defensive line coach taught Bentz that it is about the little things. "If your foot is off by an inch, if your step is too far this way or that way, if your hand is here, if you open up your chest, so many little things can go wrong. That is the kind of emphasis I try to bring as a coach."
Most importantly Bentz feels he can relate to these players and connect with them. "I can definitely relate to these guys, I know what it is like to balance sports and academics. A lot of these kids have jobs too to support themselves through college and I admire them that way...I definitely understand where they are coming from, there is a lot of respect there," he said.
At only 24 years' old there isn't much of a gap between Coach Bentz and the athletes at Fitchburg State are now.
"I have a lot of fun with these guys and they helped me out a lot because my three starting backers were seniors so it was an easy transition for me coming in early in camp. They are just good kids...deep down I have a lot of love for the kids out there and they do a good job of staying together, like they all hang out together, they are always down playing basketball and lifting together. It reminds me of the group we had at Florida State and I want to instill a belief in them that they can be successful," Bentz stated.
With his National Championship season only four years ago, Bentz may still have it physically. "I'm still young enough where I can go and run around with them, I actually play basketball with a lot of these guys...I am actually undefeated against my position group...I have yet to be beaten in 1 on 1 basketball," he joked.
Switching from Linebackers coach in 2016 to the Defensive Line coach in 2017, Bentz hopes to bring his knowledge and experience to the Falcons and help improve the team in any way he can.
"I really think with our coaching staff and our players that we are definitely headed in the right direction. I know we didn't have the year we wanted to this year, but I think with the core guys and the young guys coming up we have the right mentality, work ethic and talent to make it to the top."
Article courtesy of the Falcon Report - Kevin Fitzmaurice