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Pestana accepts scholarship

[Times photo: Douglas Clifford]
Despite being the Gators' all-time leading rusher, Godfry Pestana's scholarship offers were few and far between because of his size.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- The offer came out of the blue.

But it was the offer Godfrey Pestana had anxiously waited for. Weeks had passed since National Signing Day, and the most prolific rusher in Land O'Lakes history was still looking for a collegiate suitor, still looking for a program with a place for a fleet-footed, elusive, 5-foot-11, 155-pound tailback.

Then, unexpectedly, the University of Virginia-College at Wise called.

Its coaches had seen his films, and wanted him to take a visit. Pestana fell in love with virtually everything he saw last week. The offer was made soon thereafter.

And on Monday evening, surrounded by friends and family at home, Pestana made it official, signing a scholarship to play for the Division II Highland Cavaliers in the fall.

The offers had been few and far between for Pestana, the two-time Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Youngstown State was interested, but then pulled back. Jacksonville wanted him to walk on, as did Florida International and South Florida.

But to Pestana, 4,057 career rushing yards had to amount to something. Which is why he gratefully snapped up UVa-Wise's offer.

"UVa, they were very kind," he said. "They opened up to me and they offered me something and I appreciate the offer. For that I give them so much respect, because they're taking a chance with me, and for that, I'm not going to let them down."

Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto enjoyed his first 10-0 regular season, a SAC title, two district titles, four consecutive winning seasons and as many playoff appearances with Pestana in his backfield.

"It's fantastic," the coach said. "I'm extremely happy for (Pestana). I just think they're getting Land O'Lakes' best football player ever."

Benedetto has always said Pestana is a talent who has to be seen in person to be believed. Too many programs saw him on film and were put off by his slight build, the coach believed. But not Cavaliers coach Bill Ramseyer and his staff.

"I think that most schools got to see him on tape and never got the opportunity to see him in person, and that hurt (Pestana) and his chances," Benedetto said. "They see a lot of good film on a lot of good players, and when you compare that to the fact he played at 155 pounds, I think a lot of schools shied away from that.

"(Ramseyer) saw an outstanding talent at the running back position that has great vision and is able to pick his holes very effectively and is not afraid to take on the tackles."

Pestana's feats made him Pasco County's most decorated player. The two-time Times Pasco County Offensive Player of the Year rushed 243 times for 1,641 yards and 21 touchdowns in 11 games this season, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

He also caught 11 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown, played spot duty at cornerback -- a position he might try at UVa-Wise -- and on special teams. He was also named Florida Association of Athletic Coaches District 8 Co-Offensive Player of the Year.

Pestana is already thinking ahead to the Oct. 20 game at Jacksonville and a reunion with teammate Will Weatherford, now a defensive end for the Dolphins.

"I feel I'm a good athlete," Pestana said. "I feel I can compete. I like to go 100 percent at everything, and for teams that passed me up, that's no problem, especially if we play against them."

Pestana knows it's a long way from home, but he's ready to fulfill his dream on the UVa-Wise campus.

"It's something that I've always wanted," he said. "I've always wanted to go and play ball at the upper level.

"I've always wanted to travel and I've always wanted to go somewhere else, but the hard thing is leaving my family.

"But when I went there to visit I fell in love with everything; the scenery, the school, the students, the coaches, everyone I met."

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