Luke Benetis has been fine for the last week and is looking forward to facing Tippecanoe.
A normal sounding statement is remarkable to make after helping save his family from a devastating fire a week ago.
The Bellbrook sophomore called emergency services around 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 after waking up and realizing his home was burning. He and his family made it out safely but the family’s black labrador was lost.
“It’s just been setting in every single day,” Luke said of the incident. “It gets less and less in my mind, I haven’t really had much time to think about it with school and stuff. When I do have time to think about it I just try and sit there and process everything but it is getting shorter and shorter.”
The family lost everything in the fire at their home in Sugarcreek Township and are now staying in a hotel. Luke’s helmet smelled of smoke and his cleats were one of the few items remaining.
“It was just total devastation,” Denise Benetis, Luke’s mother, said. “My husband [Jim] didn’t grab his phone but all of a sudden had jeans on and I was like, ‘how do you get those on?’ You can just laugh about it now.”
Luke now wants his focus to just be on his team’s rematch against Tipp in the Division III regional semifinals, which takes place Friday at Sidney High School, instead of the adversity that his family is facing off the field.
After starting the season in a kicking role, Luke took over as quarterback in week four and the Golden Eagles have not lost since then.
“It gives me a place where I can forget it and just go have fun with my friends and my guys,” Luke said of playing football. “It’s my happy place. The senior class especially, but everyone is always checking in on me and making sure that I am well.”
Luke said he doesn’t tire of his teammates and friends asking how he is doing as he says it means they care for his well-being.
Denise is a secretary for Bell Creek Intermediate, and Jim works at Bellbrook Middle School and is an assistant coach for the Bellbrook football team. Denise said she feels like the shock hasn’t completely worn off her from the fire.
“I tell people it feels like we’re just kind of walking in a circle over and over again,” she said. “We’re so lucky that we have jobs to go to and my husband and Luke have a football diversion. And we’re going to be OK. We could’ve lost our lives and thank God we didn’t.”
Denise said she has had some worries about how Luke has been, but felt better with how he woke up the morning after on little to no sleep.
“The first thing the next morning, he got up and said ‘I’m playing tonight.’ I just said, ‘OK,’” she said.
Not only did Luke play, but he helped lead his team to a comeback win against Wapakoneta in the final home game of the season.
“He went out and played his ass off,” Denise said. “He really did. I couldn’t be prouder of him. His perseverance only being 15 years old. He has just handled this so well and you would just think he’s so much older.”
Usually taking up a game-manager type of role and being “unselfish”, Luke starred against Wapakoneta by throwing three touchdown passes in a 42-35 victory in the D-III playoffs.
He only has 11 carries on the season, but was able to set the stage for a game-tying touchdown pass with a key run late in the first half where he tightroped the sideline to gain extra yards and convert a 3rd-and-10 play.
“My confidence tells me I can do it and leads to that I will do it,” he said. “Throwing three touchdowns last week meant so much to me.”
After throwing for 191 yards in his first six games, he has produced 290 yards through the air in the last three games while completing more than 50 percent of his passes.
Most importantly, Luke has made only one turnover in his nine games under center and has not thrown an interception.
“I can tell I’m more confident with the ball,” he said. “In week five, I needed to go in there to do what I could and now it’s more do what I can do. I can do special things with the ball but I just need to take care of it now and expand on that.”
Luke said his job on the field currently is more about making sure everyone is where they need to be.
It’s been Denise’s job to make sure he’s focused in where he needs to be off the field.
“He’s an awesome kid. He’s a great student. He’s respectful and I’ve always been told that he’s really coachable,” Denise said. “People have told me that he’s smarter than even I know. After all this I couldn’t be more proud of him. He picked his head up and went to school Monday just like ‘I just wanna put this in my past now and look forward.’”
She said after the Wapakoneta game, the previous 24 hours appeared to have its effects on Luke in the post game huddle, but the way the team has embraced her family makes things easier.
The Bellbrook community as a whole has also rallied to assist the family. Students created signs in support of Luke last Friday at the game and fundraisers have been held to provide relief.
“I can’t be more thankful and am unable to thank people enough,” Denise said. “… This just makes me have faith in this community again. There are so many fantastic people out there that would basically give us the shirt off their back and have offered us so much.”
Bellbrook with a win against Tipp would reach the regional final round for the first time in 20 years. Friday’s winner will face either No. 1 Hamilton Badin or No. 5 St. Mary’s Memorial in the regional finals.
It’s a goal for Bellbrook to win the region on top of the SWBL East Division crown it has already achieved.
Outside of what happens on the field, Luke wants to focus on what is in front of him instead of dwelling on the terrible loss that is now behind him and his family.
He said when football season ends there will already be many positive memories to think about and more to be made in the future.
It’s tough for a 15-year-old to deal with the trauma of the last week, but he has certainly shown strength of character is the way he has faced it.
“He’s a pain in the ass sometimes, don’t get me wrong, but I know when people tell me what kind of great kid he is that I know I’ve done my job,” Denise said.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.