Stacey Bedell’s competitiveness doesn’t just stay on the football field.
It carries over to the virtual world as well.
The running back for the Massachusetts football team often spends his free time playing video games – football games, such as NCAA Football or Madden, of course – with close friend and teammate Tajae Sharpe.
The wide receiver usually gets the better of Bedell. But he’s always back for another round.
“He beats me a couple of times, but I don’t give up, I keep trying,” Bedell said. “He’s a little better than me right now.”
It’s that kind of competitive drive that turned Bedell from a medical redshirt after breaking his collarbone two games into his freshman season in 2012 to becoming the Minutemen’s starting running back this season.
Bedell overcame the challenge of having to sit and watch his team play by turning the situation into a valuable learning tool. In that time, not only was he in the weight room physically preparing himself to play again, but he was also learning what it takes to be a college football player.
“When you make the transition from high school to college there’s a lot of things. Really every aspect is different,” UMass running backs coach Roderick Plummer said. “With him being someone that’s really smart, he picks up on things quickly. But really there’s steps to take every day at this level, especially when you’re a freshman at this level for the first time.”
Some of those steps included pass-blocking, route running and just learning how to play in UMass’ offensive system. So when projected starter Jordan Broadnax, whom he said is like a big brother to him, went down with an ankle injury in training camp, Bedell was immediately ready to fill in for his mentor.
Bedell fulfilled a dream last Saturday when he made his first collegiate start against Wisconsin in front of over 75,000 people at Camp Randall Stadium.
Bedell said that he had butterflies the week leading up to the game, but once Saturday came he was as confident as ever. His coaches could see it as well.
“He’s a confident young man,” Plummer said. “I expected him to jump in with both feet. I knew this was something he’s been looking forward to for a long time.
“We just talked about continuing to improve. I think he was anticipating being the starter. It’s something he’s wanted to do since he’s been here.”
Though Broadnax couldn’t practice, he was there throughout the week to work with his teammates and help them prepare for the game. Before kickoff, Broadnax sent all the running backs, including Bedell, a text message to encourage them and motivate them.
From there, it was go time.
Bedell finished the game with 70 yards on 19 carries and a fumble before being pulled in the second half for Lorenzo Woodley in a 45-0 loss to the Badgers.
UMass coach Charley Molnar said after the game that we hadn’t seen Bedell at his best yet, and after watching the film noticed that he was hesitant to react to his reads at the line of scrimmage.
Molnar did, however, give Bedell the benefit of the doubt because of his lack of experience.
“He hasn’t really had consecutive carries since high school,” Molnar said. “He never got into a rhythm or a flow like he had to this past Saturday.”
Like any competitor, Bedell was far from satisfied.
“Even though it was my first collegiate start I feel like I could’ve played a little better than I did in the game, but I can’t go back and erase my mistakes now, so now it’s time to move on and focus on Maine,” he said.
It’s only fitting that one of Bedell’s favorite NFL players is Adrian Peterson.
The Minnesota Vikings running back battled his way back to the playing field just nine months after getting surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL in his left knee in December 2011, and went on to run for over 2,000 yards and earn Most Valuable Player honors in 2012.
Though Peterson’s case may be extreme compared to Bedell’s, the UMass running back draws inspiration from his work ethic and perseverance.
“I know he’s a hard worker,” he said of Peterson. “He’ll never give up on something he wants and he just works hard on the field.”
Growing up, Bedell’s favorite player was LaDainian Tomlinson when the running back played for the Chargers from 2001 to 2009. Bedell wore No. 21 at William Floyd High School in Long Island, N.Y., where he was an All-State player who ran for 2,562 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior in 2011.
Nowadays, there’s Peterson. But the player he most mirrors his game after now is San Francisco 49ers tailback LaMichael James because he believes they have a similar skill set.
“LaMichael James (has) a lot of speed, quick cuts and moves just like me,” Bedell said.
Best to come
Plummer said that football players make the most progress from their first to their second start. And he’s hopeful that will be the case with Bedell on Saturday when the Minutemen host Maine at Gillette Stadium.
It appears Bedell, Molnar and teammates feel the same way, and if what they all say holds true,, watch out.
“On the field I think he’s electrifying,” Sharpe said. “He could break at any moment. He’s fast, he’s very humble and he’s patient.”
“If he’s at his best he has the opportunity to make big plays,” Plummer said. “That would be the thing that I’m looking forward to is him getting an opportunity in the open field and really show that he’s elusive.
“He has the opportunity to hit another gear and be tough to tackle in the open field and that gives us an opportunity to put some points on the board.”
Bedell’s a humble player who is hesitant to talk about his personal goals, so he won’t touch on his future too often. But he expects nothing short of major improvements on Saturday, and that’s his only focus.
And it seems he’d like to make some improvements with a controller in his hands as well.
“He’s definitely the same guy on and off the field,” Sharpe said. “He gets a little more animated, though, playing video games.”
Just a competitor doing what he does best.
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.