Troy Benson figures his youth football team in the Catholic League near Pittsburgh is being coached in part by the wisdom of Foge Fazio.
Benson, the former Altoona Area High School standout, became a three-year starter at Pitt and 1984 team captain before spending six NFL seasons with the New York Jets.
He's now coaching two of his sons.
Mirror file photo
Foge Fazio (center) shares a light moment at the 2006 Blair County Sports Hall of Fame dinner with former Pitt teammate Ralph Conrad and guest speaker Greg Gumbel. Fazio died Wednesday from leukemia at the age of 71.
"This was my first year of coaching, and some of the things I'm trying to teach little kids are things I learned from Foge," Benson said Thursday.
Fazio, who coached Pitt from 1982-85, died Wednesday from leukemia at the age of 71.
He and Benson remained close, especially after Benson's playing career concluded.
"We definitely stayed in touch, and we ran into each other a lot - at golf outings and a lot of non-football related things," Benson said. "My relationship got better with him as the years went by. Not that I ever had a bad relationship with him, but I became a friend of his. He was my coach, and then we became friends."
A Coraopolis native, Fazio's Pitt roots ran deep. He played center and linebacker for the Panthers in the late 1950s, then had a long career on the sidelines, as an assistant and head coach and later a broadcaster.
"We all had respect for him not only as a coach but as a player," Benson said. "People seem to forget how good of a player he was."
But it was Fazio's quick smile and sense of humor that made him one of the more endearing figures in Pittsburgh sports history.
"He was easy to talk to," Benson said. "He loved to sit around and talk about people and football and the strategy of the game. He was always looking for a good conversation."
Fazio was no stranger to Altoona. He would be part of the visiting Golden Panthers' contingent that raised Pitt's profile here in the 1980s, when the Panthers were among the top teams in the nation, and he served as a presenter at three Blair County Sports Hall of Fame dinners, accompanying inductees Benson (1992), Community Service Award winner Harry Sickler (2004) and former Panther teammate Ralph Conrad (2006).
"Foge was two years ahead of me at Pitt," Conrad said from his St. Louis home Thursday. "[As a guard in 1960] I played alongside him, and we spent a lot of time together on the practice field. He was just a really neat guy. Sometimes seniors don't have much time for sophomores, but he was different. I always appreciated him. And he was blue and gold through and through."
Sickler, a Notre Dame fan, got to know Fazio after the latter became an assistant with the Irish under Lou Holtz and spoke with him as recently as two weeks ago.
"He had just gotten out of the hospital again, and he said they couldn't get his blood count up," Sickler said. "He was diagnosed about six years ago, but he was always optimistic. Foge was a good guy, a fun guy. We became real close friends."
Fazio came to Sinking Valley for Sickler's Bull Pen golf outing 16 straight years. It was that loyalty that Benson will cherish.
After a run at No. 1 in 1981 and '82, the Panthers began to struggle in 1984 - Benson's senior year.
"He could have sat me on the bench and played younger guys after we started losing my senior year, but he let me continue to play for my future," Benson, the fourth of four Benson brothers to earn a Division I football scholarship and the second to play in the NFL. "I'll never forget that."