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June 14, 2014

JIM SIEHL | Richland student excels in class, on field

— Ben Verhovsek is a humble, soft-spoken young man who by his nature resists all forms of public adulation.

He is the ultimate team player, believing that athletic goals happen only through the unity of individual effort.

As he prepares to embark upon the next phase of his educational and college football experience, this decorated son of Eber and Karyn Verhovsek of Richland Township only recently narrowed his college suitors to Juniata and Grove City from others such as St. Francis and Washington & Jefferson.

After visitations and talking with coaches and players, Ben yielded to the persistent efforts of coach Tim Lantz of Juniata and will pursue a faith-based education there in the medical field. A newly completed science building was among the attractions at the Huntingdon institution. The fact that his mother and aunt, Sharyn Everhart – both valedictorians of their Greater Johnstown High School classes – are Juniata alumnae did not hurt Lantz’s cause.

Although Juniata does not offer athletic scholarships, Ben will be rewarded for his hard work in and out of the classroom with an academic scholarship to aid in the high cost of today’s advanced education.

In March, Ben was inducted into the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation, which pays special recognition to scholar athletes who excel in both the classroom and gridiron. From 63 high schools in the chapter jurisdiction, 43 athletes were honored. Each school is limited to one nominee. Ben is the first Richland High School candidate to be inducted.

In program notes at a dinner acknowledging the honorees at State College, Ben’s head coach, Brandon Bailey, wrote enthusiastically: “Ben is a fantastic young man who is a leader on and off the field.”

In his four-year career, Ben was a four-year starter on both offense and defense. As an offensive guard – one of those who seldom get credit for the important role they play – he helped open holes and lead the blocking for such outstanding Ram backs as Tanner Solarczyk and Johnny Rizzo, helping Solarczyk to be named The Tribune-Democrat’s Offensive Player of the Year as a junior.

As a senior, Ben was among the key blockers enabling quarterback Matt Shaffer to establish new Laurel Highlands Conference passing records and be named the 2013 Tribune-Democrat Offensive Athlete of the Year.

During the past four years, Bailey’s Rams lost just seven times, with three of the losses occurring in district or interdistrict playoffs. They completed the past two regular seasons undefeated.

Best known for his defensive play, Ben anchored a stout defense from his inside linebacker position. Wearing No. 58 all four seasons in honor of favorite Jack Lambert, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame linebacker of the ’70s, Ben was the leading tackler with a career accumulation of more than 400.

Ben was known as a “fanatic” in the weight room, where he was bench pressing nearly 400 pounds when a back injury stopped him short of his goal of breaking a school record and he settled for second best.

For his defensive accomplishments, Ben was a first-team selection on the Associated Press Pennsylvania All-State Defensive Team. He also was a first-team honoree on four other Class AA All-State or All-Star teams, among them the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and Southern Alleghenies All-Star Team.

The Tribune-Democrat included him in both his junior and senior years as a First Team member of its All District Teams for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

He plans to take part this summer in the annual Ken Lantzy Game featuring 2014 graduates.

Verhovsek’s academic record was no less impressive. He was a member of the National Honor Society Honor Roll for every grading period for four years and was a Super 60 Scholar Award winner.

Ben’s father, who assists with the football program at Richland, was a football standout at Greater Johnstown High School and played football for the U. S. Naval Academy.

While Ben would have liked following in his father’s footsteps at a Division I school, Ben considered that at 5 feet 11 inches and 230 pounds, he was not tall enough to play linebacker and too light for an offensive lineman at that level.

So forethought prevailed. He will be playing the game he loves but football will be secondary to gaining a solid education and a career in medical science.

During a family graduation party hosted by his parents, Ben spoke about how he settled on his college of choice. In choosing Juniata, he said he had reduced the decision as to which he would pick were he not going to play football.

Sounds like a young man who has his priorities straight, with a promise of a bright future.

Go, graduate!

Jim Siehl of Schellsburg, formerly of Richland Township, retired in 1991 after 44 years as a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat.

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