Exclusive Interview with Vance Bedford

Quiet all fall, University of Florida cornerback coach Vance Bedford has not interviewed with the open media since two-a-days. Four months later, he has two all-SEC cornerbacks and one of them is a freshman All-American. The Gator secondary is much better than the 2007 group that was a team liability. They have become as good a group as any on the team and Bedford never saw it coming.

To say the defense is young is an understatement. The Gators have zero senior scholarship players on the entire roster. The secondary is one of, if not the youngest, unit on the entire squad. The current Florida starting defensive backfield had only one player that started opening day in 2007.

Vance Bedford has a pedigree as good as anyone in the country that coaches the same position. He has coached multiple defensive backs that have played in the National Football League as well as the only Heisman Trophy winner that starred as a cornerback in college.

Before the season started, if you would have asked Bedford if he and the Gators would be playing for the BCS Championship starting a true freshman cornerback (Janoris Jenkins) and a true sophomore cornerback (Joe Haden), he wouldn't believe you.

"There is no way," Bedford said from media day for the big game. "In the SEC, to have a true freshman and a sophomore you should lose 2-3 games. But, it's a team sport. The offense helps us out and gets leads. If you are playing with a lead it helps you defensively…you can only do so many things (as an offense). That has been a big reason for their success this year."

The Gators face a monumental task on Thursday night facing the nation's highest scoring offense. The Oklahoma Sooners have scored more points than any other team in the modern era of college football. They run the ball almost as well as they pass it and that is going to put a lot of pressure on this defense and this secondary.

"It's lot of pressure because you have to stop the run," Bedford said. "The tackling is of the utmost. If you don't tackle well, there is no way you beat a team like Oklahoma, they have too much skill. As a team we have to gang tackle and get guys to the ball. That is how you slow a team down. You don't stop Oklahoma, no one does. Hopefully we can slow them down to less than 50 points and feel we've had a good day."

Thirteen games into his first season as a Florida assistant, Bedford feels good about his secondary. If there is a strong suit with his group it is the one thing that he believes is the key to the game with Oklahoma. This group of Gator ball hawks knows how to bring down the ball carrier.

"We have tackled well this year," he said. "If we can tackle well in this game we have a chance in the fourth quarter. If we don't tackle well in this game we will have a chance in the fourth quarter. If we don't tackle well early on, then the game can get away from us like it has for 13 others this year."

Bedford has had several stellar groups that he has coached. The tackling is this group's biggest strength has been the tackling. Bedford rates that skill with the best unit he ever coached.

"This has to be one of the best," he said in terms of tackling. "It is up there with the group I had in '97 with Charles Woodson, Andre Weathers, Marcus Ray, Thomas Hendricks, and Will Peterson. All of those guys played in the National Football League."

Maybe the biggest surprise on the entire team this season has been the stellar play of Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins doesn't play like a freshman or sophomore for that matter. There is no aggressive and intense player on the field than Jenkins when the ball is snapped. To do that as a freshman in a tough conference like the SEC is a bit amazing,

"It is always hard to come out as a starter as a true freshman at the University of Florida," Bedford said. "He's done an outstanding job and is a very talented young man and has great awareness. He reminds me of a player I coached at Oklahoma StateR.W. McQuarters. He has a knack of making plays. Not every player has that type of awareness. There are more athletic guys that might be faster, but he has an ability to see plays before they happen and go make plays."

Bedford loves Jenkins' toughness and aggressiveness to the ball. He plays his game at cornerback like a safety that always wants to hit someone. It is really difficult to find cornerbacks that can play man coverage and do it as physical as Jenkins does. It is even tougher when they are only one year removed from high school.

"He's a guy that could play safety for us," Bedford said. "He will put his face right down the middle. That comes from his high school program when he played at Pahokee. Every year they put out players. When I was at Michigan back in the 90's, I recruited Anquan Boldin from down there. He ran a 4.7 at the combine and now he's been to four pro bowls. Football players come out of Pahokee.

"He's been in big game s in high school and they've gotten bigger here and as the season has gone on. He plays like a safety in that he has no fear. He is very confident in his own ability. He has what every corner has to have and that's amnesia. If he makes a mistake, he forgets about it. That's why he is a pleasure to coach.

Sophomore Joe Haden was an All-SEC freshman a year ago and has improved on his play since. He led the secondary in tackles in 2007 and played as well as he could for a team lacking everywhere on defense. Bedford believes Haden has stepped up is game in 2008.

"He's had a chance to grow from a freshman to a sophomore," Bedford said of Haden. "(He's learned) a few more techniques and he understands the game more. I thought he did an outstanding job as a freshman. He learned early you are going to make mistakes. Even this year he made mistakes and it didn't bother him. He's grown up quite a bit this year and I think it's shown on the football field."

Junior Markihe Anderson is the first cornerback off the bench. If Haden or Jenkins need a break, Anderson will be the first to come in the game. If the Gators are playing a team that runs a spread offense, Anderson will start in the nickel on faster slot guys. Bedford loves the leadership he gets from Anderson who has started a few games in his career and is one of the oldest guys in the secondary.

"He has done a great job," Bedford said of Anderson. "He's been a leader for me in the cornerback (meeting) room. He has a great attitude and work ethic and has a smile on his face all the time. He's started at nickel back for us and played some corner for us. He's been a jack of all trades. He's done a tremendous job and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He will get some playing time in this game and hopefully give us some depth. If it is a nickel guy in there, we will put Markihe in there for match up situations."

Junior Wondy Pierre-Louis was listed as a starter coming into the season and is a big time athlete with excellent size and speed at the cornerback position. Bedford thinks Wondy will play in the big game against Oklahoma.

"I do think Wondy will play," he said. "He adds depth for us and will get some playing time on special teams. Wondy is always ready to go and has a smile on his face all the time. He's done a terrific job in practice this week."

It was tough for Wondy to lose his starting spot, but Bedford believes the junior has approached it the right way and is doing everything he can to earn that spot back.

"If you are a competitor like Wondy you want to be out there and play," Bedford said. "It did bother him but he's grown quite a bit. He wanted to be out there and play and has grown quite a bit He's learned from it and will be a better player for that.

"He's worked hard and done a great job on special teams. He is a guy that has quite a bit of athletic ability and still has a great future at the University of Florida."

With a biog player in the slot for Oklahoma, true freshman Will Hill will get to match up on defense as the nickel back. He will also play as a safety at times and has rotated with both starters during the season. Bedford loves what Hill brings to the table.

"Will Hill is another talented freshman and has a lot of ability like Janoris Jenkins," Bedford said. "I think he has the potential to be a good player here if he continues to develop."

Now, Bedford has to take his young, but very talented and now somewhat experienced group of player against the most prolific offense in modern day football. Bedford is counting on his own offense to help his guys out for their biggest test of the season.

"Being a defensive back coach I have had some sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do," he said. "They spread you out. They have an NFL quarterback, they have it all. I am just glad I coach at the University of Florida with such a tremendous offense."

He came into the season expecting sleepless nights all year long. That hasn't happened with this group of cornerbacks that have played well beyond their years. Bedford will likely have his group ready as they have been all year.

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