Villanova senior defensive back Christian Benford prefers to take life “one day at a time.” But given his start to the 2021 season, you can say he is taking each game two interceptions at a time.
The four-year starter for the Wildcats, who was a first-team All-CAA selection last season, has been an integral part of the team’s emphatic 2-0 start to the 2021 campaign. In wins over Lehigh and Bucknell, Villanova has outscored its opponents, 102-6. In fact, thanks to a pick-six against the Bison, Benford has scored the same number of points (six) as Villanova’s two opponents have combined to score against the Wildcats this season.
After two picks in Nova’s season-opening rout of Lehigh, the Randallstown, Md., native notched two more interceptions Saturday night, giving him four in two games. His first interception set up the offense for its first score, and the second he returned 19 yards for a touchdown.
Despite previously having 10 career interceptions, this was Benford’s first time reaching the end zone as a collegiate athlete.
“It was pretty exciting,” Benford said. “It’s always a happy feeling doing something for the first time, especially when your brothers are right there to show you love.”
Benford’s four interceptions not only lead Villanova, but are the most by one player in the FCS. In fact, Benford has more interceptions than nine of the 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA).
Despite his eye-opening numbers this season, Benford admits he does not pay much attention to his personal statistics. Case in point, after being told he is just one interception shy of his single-season high, Benford said the following:
“To be honest, I didn’t even know that was my record until you just said it. I don’t really look at interceptions or my stats, I just go out there and play as if it’s my last day.”
One thing Bedford does pay attention to is film. He credited his preparation ahead of the home opener for his performance.
“I watch film all the time so it was kind of like déjà vu … the way his [the opposing wide receiver’s] shoulders were projected, it looked like a comeback, so I jumped it. Three steps to my man, and the rest is history.”
Benford’s success is nothing new, as he has been a force for the Villanova defense since arriving on campus as a freshman in 2018. He led the Wildcats that season with five interceptions and six pass breakups, and earned third-team All-CAA honors, in addition to being named CAA football defensive rookie of the year.
After playing 10 games in 2019 and all four of the 2020 shortened season, Benford worked his way up to first-team all-conference last season.
In addition to his accolades between the white lines, Benford has also been celebrated for his achievements in the classroom. In both the fall and spring semesters of 2020, he earned the CAA commissioner’s academic honor roll, and made the athletic director’s honor roll in the fall.
Benford has played 25 games so far while at Villanova. Alongside his 11 career picks and 27 pass deflections, the senior also surpassed 100 tackles for his career Saturday night.
Coach Mark Ferrante expressed his satisfaction with the defensive success over the first two weeks, crediting the four-game season in 2020 for why the team has looked “cleaner” to kick off 2021.
“A lot of these first-year guys were here last year and got four games and 40-plus practices in the spring. So, I think they are a little further along. … We have a very mature team and I love their toughness and togetherness.”
With this progression and additional experience comes trust for the veterans, which is what Bedford and his teammates in the secondary have received from Ferrante.
“We have a lot of confidence that they [Villanova’s secondary] can [play] press man, play off, sit on routes, jump routes, those types of things. We are usually going to add a fourth or fifth rusher to create a little more pressure on the quarterback… because we trust those guys in the back will make a play.”
With Villanova set to start CAA play against the Richmond Spiders this week, the coaching staff is not expecting a repeat of the lopsided scores from the first two games. That being said, Ferrante made it clear that although the opponents change, the groundwork remains the same.
“I’m assuming there will be more of a challenge, but it won’t change our preparation. We’re going to prepare for every opponent the way we always do.”
Richmond, also 2-0, has yet to throw an interception. But when it comes to Benford’s mindset, it all stays the same week in, week out.
“I just like to focus on what’s in front of me and treat every day as if it’s my last day, because you never know. So that’s why I give my 110% every night, every day, and every game.”
Benford wouldn’t object if that 110% produced another interception ... or two.
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