End around: Bedford USF's 'biggest pleasant surprise'
TAMPA -- David Bedford's view is the kind a defensive end dreams of finding, with nothing between him and the opposing quarterback.
After two years adjusting to major college football largely on the Bulls' bench, the senior is making plays as a starter and establishing himself as a leader on USF's defense.
"He has probably been the biggest pleasant surprise so far in this season for me," coach Skip Holtz said. "But he plays just like he practices. He works every day, and a lot of guys on this football team can learn from the effort and the attitude he has ... and the results he's getting on the field."
Bedford, 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, came to USF with high expectations after piling up 13.5 sacks in his only season at Independence Community College in Kansas. Dan McCarney, then the Bulls' defensive line coach, saw him as a potential bookend to All-American George Selvie.
"I'm watching him thinking Selvie on one end, Bedford on the other. They might be the best pair of defensive ends in college football," McCarney said in February 2008. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him, but he's a play-making son of a gun."
Bedford, 22, is just now realizing that potential. He missed his first summer completing his junior college classes and came in overweight and behind from a conditioning standpoint, managing just four tackles his first year with the Bulls.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this physically, and mentally, it blows you out even quicker," Bedford said of his transition to Big East play. "It was hard, because I was always the guy, in high school, in junior college, so it was different sitting behind other guys."
Bedford saw a window to earn a starting role in 2009, but his playing time took a hit with the arrival of another junior college standout, Jason Pierre-Paul, who would end up a first-round NFL draft pick after his only season with the Bulls.
"In comes this big freak defensive end that comes and takes it," said Bedford, who had 10 tackles last season, including 2.5 for losses. "That was kind of a downer, but honestly, he was the better man for the job. It was difficult, but it helped me out a lot. Now there's no more excuses. There are no more things in my way."
Bedford's confidence also comes from a full understanding of USF's defense, of being able to quickly recognize an opposing formation and his path to the backfield, something he didn't always have in his first two seasons.
"Now I know everything, so I'm not thinking. I can see a crazy formation, and if I would have seen it my first two years, I'd have been like (looking to sidelines, hands up) 'Oh, what am I doing?'" he said. "Now it's easy. The word is definitely confidence."
Bedford is tied for the team lead with seven unassisted tackles,and he had a tackle for loss and interception in USF's opener against I-AA Stony Brook. But his play in the Bulls' loss at No. 8 Florida -- a career-best five tackles, with one for a loss and another for no gain -- is something he can use for motivation and confidence all season.
"The first game was OK, but those weren't Florida tackles," said Bedford, a Palm Beach native who will graduate next spring with a degree in communications and would like to be a football analyst after his playing days are done. "Playing against those guys, big and strong, that's probably some of the best I'm going to see all season. If you can do some good things against them, you can play with anybody."
Defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves, who came in with the new staff this spring, said he's seen Bedford grab the starting job and distance himself from promising young ends, starting with the dedication in practice that Holtz has praised.
"He is conducting himself like a senior should," Hargreaves said. "He's playing with confidence, and everything is a little bit clearer. He can relax and just play, and that's been good for us. His overall maturity has helped the entire group. I told him anybody can do something once or maybe twice. Can you sustain? That's the challenge right now, to continue doing what he's been doing. But you know what? He hasn't shown any signs of doing anything different. If you do it well here (at practice), on Saturday, it's a done deal."