Ron Higgins

Lots of smarts and a tough work ethic fuel these successful centers

by Ron Higgins November 08, 2010 in Football

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Auburn’s Ryan Pugh and Georgia Tech’s Sean Bedford have never met on a football field, or otherwise, but perhaps they should.

The conversation between the two Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalists would start with their love of playing center, the intelligence it takes to recognize defenses and make the blocking calls for the rest of the offensive line.

Pugh, who’s from Hoover, Ala., could tell Bedford, who’s from Gainesville, Fla., that as the son of a 25-year high school head football coach, he felt he was destined to be a center.

“I didn’t always play center, but I’ve always known as I was going to be a center in college because of the intelligence required to play the position,” Pugh said. “Just growing up around football on the sidelines with my dad on Friday nights in Alabama, the knowledge of the game came very easy to me.”

Bedford could relate to Pugh how he started his career at Georgia Tech in 2006 as a walk-on and served on the scout team for two years before new coach Paul Johnson moved him from offense to defense and gave him a scholarship.

“Sean reminds me of the kids I coached at Navy,” said Johnson, who came to Tech from the Naval Academy. “He’s smart, and it helps him because he’s undersized and not a great athlete.”

The fact that Bedford not only earned a scholarship at Tech, but has become a first-team All-ACC center, didn’t surprise his high school coach, Jay Godwin of Gainesville Buchholz. Godwin knew Bedford’s heart and intelligence (a 4.53 GPA) would outweigh some of Bedford’s shortcomings as a high school senior when Bedford was 6-2, 235 and ran an exceedingly slow 4.9 40-yard dash.

“These guru (scouting) services look at 40 (yard dash) times and stuff like that, and it hurts kids like Sean Bedford,” Godwin said. “What a high school coach says about a kid doesn’t carry much weight anymore with college recruiters.”

Pugh and Bedford would discuss some of the things they are passionate about.

For all the blocks Pugh has made his career – and Auburn gives them colorful names like roach blocks, rodeo blocks, pancake blocks and knockdown blocks – he’s just as proud of what he’s done off the field. His academics (3.49 GPA majoring in building science) have been outstanding, but his community service is off the charts.

“I think that God has put me in an important position on a large platform in life to be able to do things I do, and I try to do it in a positive way,” Pugh said.

That’s why most of his community service has centered on children, whether it’s working at Camp ASSCA, a camp for disabled children near Auburn and at Storybook Farm, a therapeutic horse riding center.

“I’ve always loved kids, and being around kids,” Pugh said.

It was the near end of Auburn’s spring practice last year when the team chaplain approached Pugh about a possible mission trip to Haiti. Pugh immediately said he’d go and then began putting together a list of teammates he thought would be ideal to also go on the mission.

“Some of them were high-character guys and some were guys we felt would help their lives to see the lives of others in Haiti and the Dominican,” Pugh said. “I just assumed a leadership role. When there were rumors the trip might not happen, I encouraged everybody to pray and stay positive, because it was something we all wanted to do.”

Shortly after the end of the spring semester in the middle of last May, the trip took place. And it was everything that Pugh thought it would be.

“We thought before we went we would have a lot of impact on a lot of people,” Pugh said. “When we came back, we realized what an impact it had on us. Every day, we interacted with people who have it a lot worse than we do. We did a lot of work in orphanages and we saw the terrible situations these kids were in. But they never complained. They always had a smile on their faces. It’s something we thought about when we got back, how someone with so little could be so happy. We have everything we could ever want here in the States, we go to work every day, or practice or school and we’re mad about something. And in Haiti we saw kids three years old being taken care of by their nine-year old brothers and sisters.”

The perspective gained by Pugh and his teammates has helped them this season, especially with the pressure mounting each week for the No. 2 ranked and unbeaten Tigers, who’ve won their first nine games.

“The saying we’ve all been using lately is that `we’re too blessed to be stressed,’ when it comes to the big games,” Pugh said.

Like Pugh, Bedford has also enjoyed his various community service projects around the Atlanta area. But it’s obvious, judging from his major – aerospace engineering and public policy – and his GPA (3.8) that he pours a lot into his love of space. It started when he was a kid. He built his first model rocket when he was six, and a year later he could recite the name of every NASA mission from Mercury to Apollo and the crews on those missions. And also, he could give you a synopsis of each mission.

“I’d love to be an astronaut,” said Bedford, who would have to stuff his 6-1, 281-pound frame into a rather confined area.

Naturally inquisitive and someone who likes to tinker in electronics, Bedford, the son of an environmental engineer, said he accidently electrocuted himself a couple of times as a kid.

“It wasn’t too catastrophic,” said Bedford, who this past year was named the 17th smartest athlete in the nation, college or pro, by The Sporting News.

Bedford, who counts Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan as one of his paintball playing buddies back in Gainesville – “He’s someone I stand behind so I don’t get shot, and the guy is so tough he plays in short sleeves and shorts,” Donovan said – said his major fuels his work ethic and football success.

“To have any chance to succeed in my major, you have to study and work hard,” Bedford said. “It instills a work ethic that I take to the field. Ask my teammates and they’ll tell you that I come out to practice with the idea no one will match my effort and intensity.”

It’s no coincidence that Pugh’s teammates and coaches feel the same way about the guy who sets their offense in motion.

“Ryan’s always going be an example for the rest of our guys,” Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “He shows up and always works hard.”