Up Close: Tony Benford

A spot player in the past, Tony Benford appears poised to work his way into the regular rotation at defensive tackle. His career 10 tackles for loss are proof he can make plays. Naturally, Benford, a senior from Denver, also wants to help the Seminoles return to their status among the nation's elite. While conditioning workouts were not scheduled Wednesday, Benford ran on his own. "It has gotten to the point where if I don't do anything, I feel bad - and that's good," he laughed.

Conditioning workouts were not scheduled Wednesday evening for the Florida State Seminoles. While the reprieve was probably welcomed by most, it didn't stop Tony Benford from running his daily sprints on the practice field. Not even threatening weather could deter Benford.

"It has gotten to the point where if I don't do anything, I feel bad - and that's good," Benford said and laughed. "All of that is good. I try to do as much as I can. I don't like taking days off. I am trying to stay consistent. And if your a consistent, you can't lose."

Benford, a 6-4, 277-pound senior from Denver, Colo., is one of the team's better stories this summer. He is currently listed as the No. 2 defensive tackle behind All-America candidate Darnell Dockett, who continues to recover from Achilles heel surgery. In fact, Benford worked as the Seminoles' first team defensive tackle in spring drills in the absence of Dockett.

Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins has praised Benford's work habits and determination this offseason. Benford turned in a solid effort in the Seminoles' summer testing, finishing ninth overall with an index score of 2,419. Benford ran the 40 in 4.77, benched 409 pounds squated 614 pounds.

"I've been focusing on getting stronger this summer as well as getting quicker," Benford said. "Working on the little things that can help me like takeoffs. I ended up alright (testing). I figured if I stayed consistent in the weight room, I would do fine in my testing. But testing wasn't really a factor for me - it just so happened it came out good. But it's about what happens on the field."

A career spot player, Benford would love nothing more than to end his collegiate career on a positive note. He returned to defensive tackle after spending his junior season at noseguard. Benford is considered an experienced player and his 10 career tackles for loss shows that he can be effective. As Dockett and fellow interior lineman Travis Johnson (ankle surgery) continue their rehabilitation, Benford will get ample opportunity to perform in preseason drills.

"Just when you think (your time at FSU) it's going slow, it goes by pretty fast," Benford said and chuckled.

"I am telling the younger guys to do what they can do, because it goes by quickly. I haven't been very vocal, but if that's what it takes (this season) I will be vocal. I try to lead by example. You know the coaches around here, it's really tough love and coaches like to come down hard on you (laughing). I will be there to pick them up if they are down because I've been through it. You tell them, hey, let's keep going."

Of course, Benford has heard plenty about the team's defensive struggles last year, especially the line's poor pass rush. End Alonzo Jackson led the team with just five sacks as FSU tied Duke for last place overall in the Atlantic Coast Conference in dropping the quarterback.

"Everybody has come down a lot on the defensive line, talking about our pass rush - that's the No. 1 complaint, so that's the thing we are trying to focus on the most," Benford said. "We need to do the little things to help us gain that extra step in getting the quarterback. If we can't sack them, we need to at least get them on the ground. We will play against some great quarterbacks this year, so we need to get them on the ground to help our DBs out."

As one of the team's veterans, Benford admits it's difficult to reflect on last season, when FSU tumbled from the nation's elite. The season will be remembered as the one that the Seminoles didn't win the ACC Championship for the first time since joining the league in 1992. The one in which they didn't win at least 10 games for the first time in 14 years. The one in which they didn't finish in the nation's Top 5 for the first time in 14 years. The one in which the team's 54-game home unbeaten and 37-game winning streaks came to an end with not one, but two losses at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch.

"I heard about it when I called home. I heard about it when I got home. I heard about it through e-mail. I heard about it just about every way possible," Benford said.

"No doubt about it, it's on our mind. This is our chance to put all that behind us. It was very tough because we feel that was on our shoulders. The losses were very hard. We took the criticism, but hopefully this year we can gain our fans back - we have great fans. We are ready to give it another shot and start some more streaks."

Benford realizes the Seminoles' hopes rest on improved play and an improved effort. That explained his daily routine of running sprints on the practice field, even when a workout is not scheduled. When Benford reflects on his career at FSU - he selected the Seminoles over Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas and North Carolina - he wants to have happy thoughts.

"When I first got here, I was pretty much like any freshmen coming into college - was this the right decision, should I have I come here?" Benford said. "Being all the way from Denver, I had that on my mind. But looking back, I made the right decision. These are the best athletes. Even if you are not a starter, if you are a reserve, a walk-on, you realize the best athletes are here.

"Look at our segment. We have some great talent (on the line). We just need to focused on getting healthy and coming back as a unit. We need to be leaning each other. Like coach Bowden says, everybody plays a part. First string or second string, everyone has a part. But we have to get Dockett healthy, Travis healthy. Once we do that, I think we are going to be a great defensive line. We need to push that pocket and force that quarterback to the outside. We need to keep working and getting ready."

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