By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001
TAMPA -- Five years ago, Ryan Benjamin joined the South Florida football team as a walk-on, hoping for an opportunity to earn a scholarship as a defensive end.
A three-year letterman at River Ridge, Benjamin was a defensive line MVP and a 1995 All-North Suncoast defensive tackle.
But USF coach Jim Leavitt had other ideas.
"He was going to try out for offensive or defensive line, but he was also a long-snapper in high school," Leavitt said Monday. "I sat him down and said, "Ryan, you could be a pretty good offensive or defensive lineman for us. But if you concentrate on long snapping, you could be a great long-snapper."
Benjamin listened to Leavitt and that advice paid off in the form of a scholarship at South Florida. Now it has earned him a shot at being a pro.
The 23-year-old Benjamin signed a free-agent agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday -- as a long-snapper.
"It's a dream come true," Benjamin said. "I still don't know if I've really gotten over it yet. It's great."
From walk-on to starter, Benjamin played every game in his career, missing a little less than a half of action in 44 consecutive games.
"Four years ago, I would never would have thought I'd end up in a pro camp doing long snapping duties," Benjamin said. "Coaches would tell me you can make a good living doing long snapping duties. I couldn't believe it at first, but I said well, I guess I've got to get better at it. I started working out full time and I got to where I could become consistent at the position. Towards the end of my senior year, I felt like I could make it into (a professional) camp."
After the season, Benjamin began working out with close friend and teammate, kicker Bill Gramatica, which improved his visibility with scouts.
"I worked out with Bill when teams came to try him out and that got me some exposure," Benjamin said. "A couple of scouts came in and I caught their eye and it just snowballed from there."
Leavitt isn't surprised.
"He's extremely consistent," Leavitt said. "He's never had a bad snap in four years. His velocity of football back to the punter is .75, and that's very good. He's always on the mark. He's the best long-snapper I've had in 25 years."
Benjamin is a native of Massachusetts, who moved to New Port Richey when he was 15 and became a Bucs fan. Ironically, it was the New England Patriots who first made him an offer Sunday evening following the NFL draft, but he asked his agent if he could hold out because he had heard the Bucs might come calling.
"It's local, I get to stay home," he said. "I know Martin (Bucs kicker Gramatica) over there so it will make for an easy transition and that will be good. And I love the coaches over there. ... I feel like I have a pretty good shot at making the team. They released their veteran long-snapper ... they said they'd give me some exhibition games and if I do well, it's mine to lose."