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Joe Beninati on Nebraska’s tribute to Sam Foltz: ‘That was a special moment’

Nebraska lined up with 10 players to honor senior punter Sam Foltz on Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Olson)
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During Saturday’s season opener against Fresno State, Nebraska paid tribute to senior punter Sam Foltz, who died in a car accident in July. After the Cornhuskers went three-and-out on their first possession, Nebraska Coach Mike Riley sent out his punting unit, minus Nebraska’s new punter.

As the play clock ticked down, players on the sideline took a knee, Fresno State players clapped and the 10 Nebraska players on the field pointed toward the sky. Joe Beninati — the longtime play-by-play TV voice of the Capitals for CSN — described the emotional scene for those watching the game on the Big Ten Network.

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“And we led at the top of our telecast, the Huskers mourning the tragic loss of punter Sam Foltz, and as you see they line up here, a poignant reminder of how fragile life can be,” Beninati said. “How a dear teammate will never be forgotten. With points toward the sky, one man short in the formation, but he will forever be in the hearts and minds of Husker fans.”

Beninati and broadcast partner Glen Mason were silent for 12 seconds as cameras focused on Riley and tearful Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Nebraska was assessed a delay of game penalty, which Fresno State declined.

“Sam Foltz, who tragically lost his life July 23,” Beninati continued, as the cameras cut to the student section, where banners reading ‘Stay Humble,’ ‘Work Hard,’ and ‘Dream Big’ were unfurled. “Mike Sadler, formerly the punter at Michigan State, also perished in that automobile accident. SF27: you can see it throughout the stands, it’s on the helmet decals, and now the Huskers welcome a true freshman to the special teams family. There’s Drew Brown, the place kicker for Nebraska, such a close friend of Sam Foltz. The Huskers send Caleb Lightbourn, a true freshman from Washington state, to kick his first punt.”

Beninati, who will broadcast five college football games for the Big Ten Network before the Capitals’ regular season begins, learned that he would be covering the Nebraska-Fresno State game about six weeks ago. It immediately dawned on him that the game would take on added significance. During a meeting with Beninati, Mason and the Big Ten Network production crew Friday, Riley gave the impression that Nebraska would roll out a special formation on its first punt.

“The only note I jotted down was, ‘A poignant reminder of how fragile life can be,’ ” Beninati said Tuesday of his preparation for the call of the tribute, which made the rounds on highlight shows and has more than one million views on YouTube. “I wanted to include that and then I wanted to react to what I saw. I wanted to make sure there was 10 to 12 seconds of quiet time from the booth, to let the directors cut the pictures, let the tears fall on the sidelines, let the guys point to the heavens on their own. It’s a pretty tough balancing act and I hope we did it right. I think we did. You don’t want to talk all over it. That was a special moment. It was pure class.”

Saturday marked the first time that Beninati broadcast a game at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. It’s a game he won’t soon forget.

“You hear about the great cathedrals of sport and how important football is in Nebraska,” he said. “The entire state sort of wrapped its arms around the football program [after Foltz passed away]. Coach Riley said that the support system for the kids was unbelievable. In that way, he said Nebraska’s a throwback kind of place, it’s about kids and families. In a life and death moment like that, they had a lot of good people there to help prop them up, and I think 90,000 people got to show up and pay their respects [on Saturday]. It was really incredible to be a part of. I had always heard that Nebraska was big-time and they really showed it.”

Beninati will call Saturday’s game between Cincinnati and Purdue. The following week, he’ll be in the booth when Duke plays at Northwestern in prime time.