Bedford settles in at left tackle

There is some humor in the seven hours Glen and Enid Bedford drove through an August night, because the story ends well.

As of today, their son Matthew is the starting left tackle for Indiana. He’s confident coming off of his first career start at Michigan State. He performed about as well as anyone could have expected from an 18-year-old in his first Big Ten game, especially filling the shoes of an injured fourth-year starter in Coy Cronk.

But the night before the Hoosiers’ last scrimmage of fall camp, Mr. and Mrs. Bedford were concerned with the words escaping Matthew’s mouth. He said he called just to talk, but he was reviewing all of his mistakes from practice. He was expressing doubts about whether he could piece together all of the intricacies of a Division I blocking scheme. He said he was OK, but he sounded anxious.

It was 11 p.m. in Cordova, Tenn., but the Bedfords weren’t waiting until morning.

They were Bloomington bound.

“We looked at each other, we hung up the phone, and we were on the highway in 30 minutes,” Enid said.

“Sometimes you have to pull him off the ledge because he’s fighting himself so hard,” Glen said. “You have to tell him, ‘Breathe, relax, it’s going to be OK.’ Just take the next step.”

The greatest obstacle in Matthew Bedford’s path to the football field was never physical. No defensive end was beating the 6-foot-6, 307-pounder as badly as he was beating himself. IU’s coaches were challenged in getting a perfectionist to accept a mistake and move on.

Glen and Enid just wanted to help, but when they arrived in the Memorial Stadium parking lot the morning of the scrimmage, their car passed the truck of assistant William Inge, the man who recruited Matthew to IU. Enid instinctively ducked, because she didn’t want to alarm the coaches, nor did she want Matthew’s teammates thinking he had called his momma for help.

But Enid’s phone started buzzing. It was Inge.

“Did I just see you?” he asked.

Enid looked at Glen, unsure of how to respond.

“Uhhh, yeah,” she blurted out.

“Turn around,” Inge answered.

They got out of their cars and talked about the phone call. Inge assured them Matthew was, predictably, doing just fine.

Bedford just needed to play his way into a comfort zone, and he would get a chance sooner than anyone could have anticipated. While Cronk’s injury versus UConn was unfortunate, it offered the true freshman an opportunity to put his doubts to rest in a D-I game.

He studied intensely ahead of Michigan State, flipping through notecards with lists of plays for each formation. He poured through film and called up seniors Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn whenever he had a question.

“You need to grow up fast and you need to grow up quick,” Bedford said. “It’s a man’s game. If you come in there acting like a little boy, you are going to get treated like it. This team doesn’t need that right now.”

For a long time, Bedford has set high standards for himself. His first Facebook bio at 14 years old listed “professional football player” as his occupation. He also had the uncommon maturity to plot out the steps to his goal, opting to not play football as a freshman and focus on academics instead.

In middle school, there were times during football season when Bedford’s grades slipped. Then he watched lots of “Last Chance U” episodes, struck by the washouts who didn’t take care of their grades. His dad reminded him of all the Memphis area football stars who went off to college but inevitably dropped out.

One of his middle school coaches, his algebra teacher, Eric Winfrey, hammered home the importance of academics.

“I could always hear his voice in the back of my head, or my parents in the back of my head, ‘Hey, do this work, do this right, do what you know is right,’” Bedford said. “Do what you are supposed to do.”

The learning curve when Bedford became a college football player was bound to be steep, regardless. It just got a little steeper because he played defensive tackle as a sophomore and junior. He didn’t switch over to the offensive side of Cordova’s line until senior year.

Even with the benefit of early graduation, enrolling at IU for spring practices, the Hoosiers’ blocking techniques were lightyears ahead of what he learned at Cordova.

“He still had a little bit of angst about the fact that he wasn’t taught some of that stuff in high school,” Glen said.

“He told me, ‘Mom, I came here to accomplish something, and I have a standard of what I want to be and what I want to accomplish. I’ll never feel comfortable enough to think I’ve done that,’” Enid said.

An absence of complacency can be useful, but it can’t veer into self-doubt.

IU line coach Darren Hiller was constantly in Bedford’s ear, steering his focus away from each mistake and pointing him toward fixes.

“I’d make a ‘hot’ call to let whoever know that there’s a blitz coming, and I sat there and had my eyes on the inside when I should have had my eyes on the C gap. Just missing people, missing my target,” Bedford said. “I know after the play, ‘Ugh, I should have had that. I know that, so why are you messing this up?’

“Just getting used to, OK, you are going to make mistakes. Fix them.”

In reviewing the game film from his first collegiate start, Bedford has been asking himself a familiar question, “What was I thinking?”

But it’s less a masochistic exercise.

He’s mentally transporting himself back to the moment he missed a block, asking what he could have done better. Were his eyes set on the right gap? Was his head placed inside a defender when it should have been outside? Were his feet in the right position?

He then jots something down on a notecard.

“A lot of times I sit there and think ‘You need to take this step’ — write this down in your notes, and have that right there,” Bedford said.

Bedford wasn’t perfect against Michigan State, but offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer doesn’t remember any major blown assignments. He wasn’t calling a game in fear of Spartan edge rushers getting a free pass.

In fact, DeBoer can specifically recall a second-down play versus Michigan State when he opted for a run because he had full confidence Bedford would make his block.

“It was really exciting to see him grow and the confidence that he has and how just in one week he’s like a different person,” DeBoer said. “It’s pretty cool to have to not just worry about what he’s not capable of doing but also the strengths he can give you in certain plays, in certain concepts.”

Coming out of a bye week, Bedford continues to aim higher. He’s been flipping through his notecards, matching plays and formations against Rutgers’ defensive film on his iPad.

Littlejohn, the center, has been a useful resource on how to move defenders.

“He’ll tell me what steps or what hands I need to use, what techniques I need to get him where I need him to be,” Bedford said, beginning to laugh. “But, sometimes, he’ll just say, ‘You need to ask Coy.’”

There is no replacing the depth of knowledge Cronk has accumulated over four years. So he’s back at practice now, oftentimes leaned back in a chair, giving Bedford a thumbs up when a block meets everyone’s standards.

If not, “Coach Cronk,” as Tom Allen has anointed him, will chime in.

It’s everything Bedford needs right now.

“It’s something comfortable now,” Bedford said. “I have my study technique down and everything for me to get ready. I feel a whole lot more comfortable and definitely feel confident in what I’m supposed to do, because I’ve got the guys around me to do it. I got a team that believes in me.”

2 comments

  1. Bedford is another talented player in the 2019 class. For a freshman playing against a very good defense did a good job helping the offense. It is good he is taking notes and studying for each game. He and Jones will be very good OTs and work with the new OLmen next year. I hope IU moves Crider to center with Berry at guard along with Nworah or whichever OLmen that are better.

    This season if the team can win eight games recruiting will shoot up bringing in better players. Winning six games will be fine heading into a bowl game.

  2. We’re going to need all the OL talent IU can get with Hiller as position coach and MB is proving it. He leaves a lot to be desired without someone every week overachieving. The OOC schedule is over and no OL man excelled until Bedford 2 weeks ago. He performed on raw talent, adrenaline and lots of study engaging a good memory. I don’t know if Penix can carry the whole load w/o a run game and I don’t know if Bedford is enough to create 1. Somebody else has to breakout. Sooner than later.

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