JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Authorities in Jacksonville are reporting Heath Benedict passed away at his home on Wednesday, March 26. Benedict, a former offensive lineman at Newberry College, was 24.
Police say 24-year-old Heath Benedict was found dead on his couch Wednesday evening in his Jacksonville-area home. They do not suspect that any drugs or alcohol were involved in his death, or that foul play is suspected.
"Heath Benedict was one of the Big Three we founded this program on, and he was a great example of what our program is all about," said Newberry College head football coach Zak Willis. "He was a generous, caring person who never met a stranger and never put himself ahead of his teammates or his coaches.
"My fondest memory of Heath is seeing him on his knees in prayer at a team devotional, and that's what I'll always take with me," Willis added.
"Heath made an indelible mark on the lives of the people he touched at Newberry College and everywhere he went," said Athletic Director Andy Carter. "He was truly one of those people who you just do not forget. His 'bigger than life' personality really made him stand out. We are saddened by the news of Heath's death and now put our energies behind praying for and serving his family."
“Heath was a big, tough man, but he had a gentle, caring heart,” said Newberry College President Dr. Mitchell Zais. “He was always the last to leave the football field after a game because he spent time with fans who wanted to be near him, signed every request for autographs and carried the kids on his back.
“The Benedict family, Newberry College and the NFL have lost a fine young man with extraordinary potential who was in the prime of his life,” Zais added.
Benedict had recently participated in the NFL Scouting Combine in preparation for the 2008 NFL Draft in April. He was projected as a first-day pick at the offensive guard position.
He was the only Division II player in the 2008 Under Armour Senior Bowl and the first Division II player to participate since 2004.
Benedict consistently earned All-American accolades for his play as an offensive tackle at Newberry.
He was a 2007 finalist for the Gene Upshaw Award, which is awarded to the top lineman in Division II. He was named to the Associated Press' Little All-American First Team for two consecutive years and was also a two-time winner of the South Atlantic Conference's Jacobs Blocking Trophy. All told, Benedict earned 10 postseason All-American honors in his Newberry career.
A four-year starter at Newberry, Benedict will forever be known as the most dominant lineman in school history.
The words of head coach Zak Willis will likely be echoed by the Newberry College community: "Heath Benedict will never be forgotten as long as I have a breath in my body."
A memorial service for Heath Benedict will be held on Tuesday, April 1, at 9:25 a.m. in Wiles Chapel on the Newberry campus.