Christian Benford is happy about his development after his freshman season at cornerback on the Villanova football team, but he wants to do something “spectacular” or “eye-popping” in his sophomore season.
Benford opened the eyes of many last year, intercepting five passes in nine games to finish tied for first in the Colonial Athletic Conference. He added six pass breakups. His ratio of .6 interceptions per game ranked sixth in the FCS, while his 11 passes defended ranked third in the CAA and 19th nationally. Benford picked off 17 passes at Randallstown High School in Baltimore, Md.
The 6-foot corner always had a nose for the football.
“As a kid playing around in the backyard, playing catch with my parents and siblings ... that ball awareness kind of just grew into me as I got older,” Benford said Thursday at Villanova’s spring practice. “As we kept playing football, throughout the backyard, throughout any field anywhere, it kind of just came to me.”
Benford went into the offseason wanting to improve on his speed and visual focus. So he worked on drills of catching tennis balls to improve his focus and tracking receivers while in coverage before honing in on the quarterback. Those drills help train his eyes to be aware of where the receiver is and where the quarterback may throw the ball.
“You never really expect, anticipate, or assume that a freshman is going to come in and have that type of year,” Wildcats coach Mark Ferrante said. “But when one does, you get pretty excited about it and look forward to the future of that athlete.”
Villanova will have an open competition for the quarterback position leading up to the Wildcats’ season opener on Aug. 24 at Colgate. Junior Zach Schetelich and sophomore Qadir Ismail are expected to headline that battle as both players have experience.
Schetlich has played 12 games over the last two years and has four career touchdown passes. Ismail played in three games as a freshman and has one career touchdown pass.
Both players played in relief of an injured Zach Bednarczyk, who has since graduated. Perhaps being thrown into the fire is best type of experience, Ferrante said.
“There’s no substitution for game reps,” Ferrante said. “No matter how much you’re out here practicing in the spring or in the fall, there’s no substitution for when you’re actually out there in a game. It’s faster, and the energy and the intensity is higher."
Ismail, who is listed at 6-foot-7, has a family history of football. His father, Qadry, played 10 NFL seasons with six teams. Like Benford, Ismail needs to stand out during the spring to grab the starting starting job by August.
“I feel like the coaches should have no question that I’m the starter to earn the spot,” Ismail said. "If they have to question it, and if they don’t think I should start, obviously I didn’t do enough.