LAND O'LAKES — John Benedetto rarely misses a football practice, but Wednesday was different.
The Land O'Lakes coach, beginning his 32nd season, was absent to be with his wife, Vanie, who had emergency gallbladder surgery. Her symptoms had intensified Tuesday night and she was rushed to an emergency room where tests concluded she had gallstones.
By Wednesday evening, Vanie was awake, doing well and was expected to be released today. Benedetto already was talking about making it back to practice.
"She was in excruciating pain last night so I had to get her to the emergency room," Benedetto said.
Vanie has been an integral part of the football program, with a hand in everything from shooting and editing videos to coordinating the dance team and Thursday night team meals.
In 2006, Benedetto told the Times: "To be honest, I really don't think I could coach this football team any longer without her help. It's just gotten to that point now and I rely too much on her to get things done for me."
For the second season in a row, Ridgewood's loss is Gulf's gain — of potentially 1,000 yards or more. Junior Adrian Golden, projected to share handoffs with Mitchell transfer Sterling Ross in the Rams' backfield, has moved across town to Gulf. Golden, mostly overshadowed by North Suncoast rushing leader Byronell Arline last season, ran for 258 yards and three touchdowns for the Rams in 2007.
Rams coach Chris Taylor, who said he didn't know of Golden's transfer until last week, likely will lean far more heavily on Ross, who ran for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns at Mitchell last season.
"He's been doing a great job," Taylor said.
Golden, meantime, finds himself in the position of potentially replacing 2,000-yard rusher David Williams — also a Ridgewood transfer — in the Gulf backfield.
"Some of the kids have told me the Golden kid's pretty good, but I don't think I've ever seen him play," Bucs coach Jay Fulmer said. "He said he played against us last year, but I don't ever remember seeing him play.
"I haven't seen him in pads other than (Monday's) picture day. They all look good on picture day."
Gulf plays at Ridgewood on Oct. 3.
Rams QB derby under way
Though onetime projected starter Jimmy Mattos is back at Ridgewood after briefly leaving the program, he's no longer a lock for the quarterback job. Taylor said Mattos, who also could line up elsewhere for the Rams, is in a three-way duel for the starting job with ambidextrous Hudson transfer Scott Kujak and athletic freshman Bob Peck. Of the three, Mattos is the only one to have appeared in a varsity contest.
"We feel we've got three pretty good quarterbacks," said Taylor, seeking a replacement for 1,000-yard passer T.J. Haab. "They're all taking reps with the first team and doing a pretty good job. I'm not quite sure what's going to happen there yet."
Easier this time around
Tom McHugh had envisioned a smoother start to his head coaching career. Then came Aug. 5, 2007, when the youngest of his three daughters, Brenna, was severely injured in a car accident the night before his first fall practice as Pasco's coach.
"It's kind of surreal," McHugh said. "Aug. 5 was when she was in the hospital and the ensuing 31 days after that were difficult. It's like traveling through Jell-O. You're in two to three different places at the same time, trying to do a good job and still be there for your family."
There were days McHugh would miss practice to be with Brenna as she recovered and he entrusted his assistants to take over.
"I thank God for last year going through a lot of those experiences with these coaches," McHugh said. "They picked the slack up real easy."
Today, Brenna is taking a full load of classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College working toward a nursing degree.
"This is a lot easier," McHugh said. "We planned everything out. I worked all summer, probably four out of five days a week. The coaches have been up here. There's about 90 kids that came out (Monday)."
Hernando Co. scoop
Here are some things that caught our eye from Central and Hernando practices this week:
• Central had 80 kids (varsity and JV) working out Monday, and coach Cliff Lohrey said that didn't include some absentees. Projected primary tailback Austin Forte, who dislocated his shoulder the first day of contact last spring, was back … and fired up.
• If Hernando has nothing else this season under first-year coach John Palmer, it will possess structure and discipline.
Uniformly decked in gold shorts, white mesh shirts and purple helmets, the 70 or so Leopards walked in neat rows of two from their locker room at Tom Fisher Stadium to their practice facility about a quarter-mile down the street.
Upon hitting the first blade of grass, players began jogging to their respective practice stations. After some brief individual work, Palmer assembled the players into rows of five and coached them on how to stretch, even instructing them where to place their helmets ("Take your helmet off and set it down to your right," he said).
• Central's best-looking athlete (minus pads): OG/DT Kevin Grier, whom we project as the county's top run blocker in 2008.
• Hernando's best-looking athlete (minus pads): RB/DB/KR Alvin Delaine, who worked on his coverage technique, kick returning and ball carrying in the half-hour or so that we observed. Think he might get on the field this year?