by John Bernardi
It was probably the most memorable play of the 2002 Yale football season. With 10 minutes to go Yale was losing by three at Providence. The Bulldogs were driving into Brown territory and faced a third and long. "As I turned, I saw the pass flash in front of me. I tipped the ball just enough to slow it down. Then I tipped it several more times and finally caught it," said wide receiver Ron Benigno, whose 33-yard TD made it 24-20 and led to a 31-27 win.
Benigno, a senior who snared a team-high six touchdown passes in 2002, has been a great success story for the Yale program and could be a key to the Elis' run for an Ivy title. Against Brown he caught five passes for 107 yards and two TDs. For the season he totaled 491 yards, averaging 18 yards per reception. His longest was for 53 yards against Columbia.
Receivers coach Tony Reno said, "At 6-feet and 190 pounds, Ron is not the most physically intimidating receiver in the league, but he is one of the best. He has the ability, work ethic and desire to be an All-Ivy player. He's very elusive with a knack for coming up with big plays by making people miss."
Quarterback Alvin Cowan said, "I'd put him up against any receiver in the league. We will get the ball into his hands as often as possible this season."
Senior wide receiver P.J. Collins said, "I am amazed every day in practice at the things he can do on the football field. He's is the most talented wide receiver in the league."
Teammates and friends describe Benigno through traits such as goal oriented, considerate, dependable, well rounded and generous with his time. According to roommate, Terence Chiu, "I feel that being Ron's friend since freshman year was one of the best things that happened to me at Yale."
Collins said, "Benigno is one of the most loyal guys I've ever known, on or off the field. If a teammate or friend asks anything of him, he never hesitates to do it. And what's more, he does it quietly. He doesn't make a big deal about anything, and that's how he has earned the respect of the team."
Benigno's football skills are like his personality, deceptively quick. "He'll embarrass you as he does many defensive backs through his quick wit and great sense of humor. He can easily turn a situation around and make you the butt end of a joke that you intended for him," said Cowan.
Benigno hails from Brea, Calif., where he attended Brea Olinda High School. He excelled academically with a 4.4 GPA and 1420 SAT. He lettered three times in football and was captain for two years. He was all-league twice as a receiver and All California Southern Section as a defensive back. He started all four years in baseball, where he was an accomplished base stealer, and was an all league player. He played shortstop his first three years and then moved to centerfield for his senior year.
Benigno's foundation for success began early. He is very close with his family, and his father makes it to most of the Yale home games. "My father has been my mentor. He's been there for me in life and in sports. He has always pushed me to be the best that I can be and never become complacent. He's always stressed hard work and modesty and that's the way I try to live my life. Regardless of how I play, he's proud of me and that means a lot", said the current Eli star, who scored the game's only TD in a 7-3 win over Princeton last fall at the Bowl.
According to Benigno, "Once I was accepted by Yale, it was a 'no-brainer.' I chose Yale because of the environment and the prestige that this university carries. After visiting the campus, I knew I wanted to come here. Yale draws people from all over the world. One of my Silliman College roommates is from Sweden. This broadens my life perspective by learning through people from other places."
Freshman year was Benigno's first time being away from his family, (including 2 younger brothers and a sister), for an extended period of time. He traveled and played a key role as a member of the varsity special teams. He considers it a great accomplishment to balance study with football. Since then he has spent three consecutive summers in New Haven taking classes to lighten the load during the busy autumn season.
Playing football for Yale has provided Benigno with fond memories. "Playing in the Harvard game my freshman year, then seeing the crowd rush the field and watching our great senior class finish with a win was thrilling. The catch against Brown in my junior year was one of the most exciting plays I've ever made. What a great feeling. It gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season."
Benigno is a political science major. After graduation he plans on returning to California and working for a couple of years at an accounting firm or in the insurance field and then going to business school.
The combination of strong family, friends and his Yale football experience provide Benigno with a solid foundation for the future. His outgoing personality will open doors for him. He will achieve results through natural persistence and skills. Benigno's quickness will propel him as he marches toward his goals, gracefully sidestepping obstacles in his path.