TAMPA — David Bedford's view is the kind a defensive end dreams of finding, one with nothing between him and the opposing quarterback.
After two years adjusting to major college football largely on the USF bench, the senior is making plays as a starter and establishing himself as a leader on 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 feet 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 Independence, Kan. Then-Bulls defensive line coach Dan McCarney saw him as a potential bookend to All-American George Selvie.
"I'm watching him thinking Selvie on one end, Bedford on the other," McCarney said in February 2008. "They might be the best pair of defensive ends in college football. I don't want to put too much pressure on him, but he's a playmaking son of a gun."
Bedford, 22, is just now realizing that potential. In 2008 he missed his first summer with the Bulls completing his junior college classes and came in overweight and behind in conditioning. He made four tackles all season.
"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 ended 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, 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," he said. "I can see a crazy formation, and if I would have seen it my first two years, I'd have been like (looking to sideline, hands up), 'Oh, what am I doing?' 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 an interception in USF's opening win against I-AA Stony Brook. But his play in the Bulls' loss at then-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 okay, but those weren't (UF) tackles," said Bedford, a Palm Beach native who will graduate in the spring with a degree in communications and would like to be a football analyst after his playing days are done. "Playing against (the Gators), 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 Holtz's new staff this spring, said he has 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."