Vanie Benedetto, wife of Land O'Lakes coach John, carries quite a load for the team - keeping players fed and in the public eye, and her husband grounded.
LAND O'LAKES -The first highlight tape was her idea.
Vanie Benedetto spent a weekend locked in her bedroom sifting through Land O'Lakes games hoping to capture the perfect moments of the 1988 season. A videographer then pieced together a master tape while Vanie added suggestions such as using slow motion on quicker plays.
"The kids loved it," Vanie said. "They were like, 'We could all get college scholarships after that tape.' "
Vanie does a lot more these days than string together a few videos.
She is the undisputed Land O'Lakes team mom, with a hand in everything from sewing patches on uniforms to organizing team meals.
She is a statistician who compiles yardage and touchdowns. She dabbles in media relations, ensuring the Gators' stats get in the newspapers.
She types up rosters, compiles the team program and is heavily involved in fund raising. She teaches the dance team, shoots pictures on senior night and has even helped paint the stadium.
Most importantly, Vanie keeps the coach - her husband - from falling apart.
"To be honest, I really don't think I could coach this football team any longer without her help," Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto said. "It's just gotten to that point now and I rely too much on her to get things done for me."
Vanie and John began dating soon after she arrived at Land O'Lakes in 1979. She giggled when recalling her first impressions of John.
"My girlfriend asked if there were any good-looking men on the faculty," Vanie said. "I said, 'There's one but he probably thinks he's God's gift to women.' He's not like that at all."
They were married Feb. 14, 1982, and Vanie's role was limited to supporting her husband the way she cheered at Hillsborough-Plant Thanksgiving Day games while growing up in Tampa.
John began asking her to help little by little, first with the roster, then other things. Now it's common for her to spend almost 12 hours a day on campus during football season.
"She's the soothing influence," Gators assistant Rock Ridgeway said. "She's an assistant in the background."
Her involvement really took off when her son, Giovanni, played at Land O'Lakes through his graduation in 2003. During that time Vanie started the tradition of Thursday night meals. She wanted her son, Giovanni, to sit, relax and get to know teammates without the stresses of practice.
The first meal was cupcakes, then it ballooned into her cooking enough ziti for 60 people. Much of the responsibility now is left to current players' parents. "That just kind of snowballed," Vanie said. "We just started having our little mommies' Thursday afternoon and we fed them."
Vanie spends more time now with the team program and her highlight films. Her tapes have blossomed into high-quality DVDs. Vanie took over the production of game film when their videographer learned shooting weddings was more profitable. Games are shot on mini-DV then Vanie's on-campus office is used to make copies of game films immediately after games. She downloads the games to her computer to help her edit the highlight tapes, then burns them onto DVDs on her MacBook Pro. And when players need highlight tapes to send to colleges, she teaches them how to edit their tapes.
There's no denying her significance to the success of Land O'Lakes football.
"She has grown into a major part of this staff so to speak," John said. "...We definitely keep her busy."
This is the third in a series of stories previewing John Benedetto's 30th season at Land O'Lakes.