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Vineland’s Bennett Enjoys Role as Leader of Student-Athletes

After being reappointed last fall, Vineland native Eryca Bennett is in her second year as a McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative (MLI) Future Leader for Villanova Athletics. Bennett became the first MLI Future Leader at the college in 2021.

The MLI Initiative is a John McLendon Foundation program that works to provide minorities a jump-start to their careers through practical experiences, opportunities to build their network, and instilling the values of John McLendon: Integrity, Education, Leadership, and Mentorship.

Villanova is one of over 90 colleges, universities, conferences, and sports organizations that provide opportunities with the Initiative. McLendon was the first African-American Head Basketball Coach at a predominately white university and in a professional setting. Since 2020, over 40 college basketball coaches have followed the path that McLendon set, helping to expand the MLI platform. One of those coaches is former Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright and his wife, Patty.

When she came upon the position at Villanova, Bennett felt that the role could be perfect for starting her career in sports.

“Villanova is not too far from home and working with the Office of Academic Support for Athletics, UNITAS, and student-athlete development seemed right up my alley,” Bennett said. “The team that works with McLendon, ProLink Staffing, really guided me every step of the way. They helped me find a position through McLendon that matched my interests and a university that aligned with my goals and values; they then assisted me through the interview process.”

Bennett graduated from Rutgers in 2020 with a degree in sports management. She spent all four years of undergrad as a work-study intern in Olympic Sport Operations, working with softball, men’s and women’s track and field, field hockey and soccer. She also spent time as a manager with the women’s basketball team, concentrating on film and assisting with all basketball operations. After graduating, she spent a year working as a paraprofessional aide at a middle school, helping seventh and eighth-grade students who needed extra assistance.

Bennett wears multiple hats in her role as a Future Leader. She meets with Villanova student-athletes in weekly one-on-ones where they go over academic plans, making sure they are on-track with assignments while helping them through the transition from high school to college.

Each month brings McLendon Foundation Zoom meetings where Future Leaders from across the country gather to learn about topics that will benefit them moving forward in their professional careers while also hearing from various professions through the educational series provided by the foundation.

“I believe Eryca has been able to explore her passions, gain professional experiences and expand her network while at Villanova,” Director of Academic Support for Athletics Jenn Brophy said. “Her dedication to our student-athletes’ success and discovering their potential is apparent in all her work. Eryca is a shining example of a bright young person who is very deserving of the opportunity, and we have benefited greatly from her contributions and talent.”

While Bennett came to Villanova expecting to be in the role for one year, the path she stepped foot on brought another turn—a chance for a second year.

“When I was asked to return for a second year, I knew I had to say yes,” Bennett said. “The growth that I have witnessed within myself from year one to year two is tremendous…. with the help of my great mentors and people who truly cared about teaching me and helping me grow, I was able to learn everything I needed to know to be successful in this field.

The transition from year one to year two as the MLI Future Leader has been one of personal growth as well as bringing a greater appreciation for Villanova as a university and a community. That appreciation has made Bennett want to share her admiration to the students who enter the campus and help them in making it their home.

“Through my experience, I learned that I enjoy working with student-athletes, and I really gained a passion for wanting to help them grow as people first, beyond all their identities,” Bennett said. “

After the 2022-23 academic year, Bennett will transition to a new role in the department as director of Student-Athlete Development.

This content first appeared in Villanova Athletics