Land O' Lakes, Florida -- "Many of our staff are in shock, there's disbelief," said Land O' Lakes High School Principal Ric Mellin.
A powerhouse at Land O' Lakes High, John Benedetto spent 32 of his 34 years at Land O' Lakes High as head coach. He won 196 games, including five playoff victories, more than anyone else in county history, before retiring in 2008.
"We're sitting in a stadium that he had an influence in building. Not just the building itself but the foundation of this football team that for so many years had success, " Mellin said.
A Long Island native, Benedetto arrived in the rural town in 1975, two years before replacing Dan Sikes as coach.
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford played linebacker for Benedetto and in a statement said, "It's hard to say what my real feelings are because I am in such disbelief and shock."
Coach Benedetto died suddenly of heart complications Sunday evening, two days after his 66th birthday. He leaves behind his wife of 31 years and his son Giovanni.
"They were both young teachers here at the school and they became love struck with one another and were married early on."
Coach Benedetto was loved by the entire Pasco community. He made a big impact here at Land O' Lakes High, after all he was the head coach for over 30 years. Many say even though he's gone now, his legacy will live on.
"They petitioned the school board last summer to change the name of Gators Stadium to John Benedetto Stadium and with the approval of the school board we moved forward and did a dedication this past fall, " said Principal Mellin.
A flag flies at half staff near the entrance of the school, and not too far behind is John Benedetto's legacy in a very quiet stadium.
"His passing is a true tragedy for us and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family," said Ric Mellin.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 27 beginning at 10 a.m. It will be held at:
Grace Family Church
5101 Van Dyke Road
Lutz, FL 33558