Benedict football off to perfect start with keep-moving-forward philosophy

After a recent practice, Benedict head football coach Chennis Berry preached the importance of always looking forward.

That mantra has served the Tigers well this season as they enter Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Miles College at Charles W. Johnson Stadium sporting a 5-0 overall mark, which includes three wins in league play.

The Tigers were just outside the most recent Division II coaches Top 25 but were ranked No. 24 overall in the D2Football poll and No. 2 in the Ultimate HBCU Sports Division II rankings.

Benedict has earned its record and the acclaim with a high-flying offense that is averaging 36.2 points per game — about 10 more per game than last year. Just as important has been the defense, which has limited the opposition to 9.4 points per game — a 14-point improvement over 2021.

In an attempt to fortify the defense, the staff worked hard to improve players already on campus and filled a few holes on the line and at linebacker with transfers.

“Our goal has always been to be in the top 10 percent of defenses in the country,” defense coordinator Jordan Odaffer said. “We set high goals hoping we meet them. But, if you don’t meet them, you’re still better off than you were before. I just want to have a meeting saying, ‘Guys, we played great and reached 10 out of 10 of our goals.’

“We set extremely high goals. We set high goals last season. The expectation and the standard doesn’t change. The standard is our best.”

A transfer who is paying immediate dividends is defensive end Loobert Denelus. In his second season with the Tigers after transferring from Southeastern University, he has recorded 16 solo tackles, including six for loss. He has forced three fumbles, while also recovering three. He has also picked up a safety.

“Definitely the culture,” Denelus credited for the defensive improvement. “We’re focusing a lot more on details, trying to be a lot more disciplined than last year. There has been a culture shift as everyone is working harder to reach our goals.”

Odaffer, who coached Denelus at Southeastern University, reached back to that program to add defensive lineman Curtis Williams.

Despite being in his first year at Benedict, Williams has hit the ground running, picking up 15 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He has also forced a fumble. His presence has helped fortify the middle of the defensive front.

“This has been a phenomenal experience,” Williams said. “This has been great for me and the team. I think God wanted to put me in a position to succeed and that led me here.

“The facilities are great, but the people are more important. Coach Odaffer, I’ve known him for a while, so when I got here it felt like home. Being here with this team is kind of where I was supposed to be.”

Odaffer and the Tigers also found a key piece of the defense at an in-state college, with linebacker Brandon Lane transferring from Erskine.

“I feel like the biggest thing is, we’re swarming around, flying to the ball,” Lane said. “Every time we break it down, we’re breaking it down on ‘swarm, swarm.’ We want 11 hats to the ball and we’re swarming. When all 11 are doing their job, good things happen.”

He is second in tackles with 28, including one for loss.

The start has Berry hopeful of what the remainder of the season holds after imploring his team to leave the past behind and remain focused on what’s next.

“We’ve been 100 percent bought in the entire season,” said Berry, who’s in his second full season as Tigers coach. “The people on the outside talk about record. We just talk about being 1-0 today, win today.

“If we can continue to stack those positive things together, we like our chances on gameday. The guys have been 100 percent locked in on keeping everything in front of them and focusing on the things we can control.”

Benedict 2022 football schedule

Sept 3: Benedict 58, Elizabeth City State 14

Sept. 10: Benedict 14, Lane 0

Sept. 15: Benedict 24, Savannah State 6

Sept. 24: Benedict 40, Kentucky State 14

Oct. 1: Benedict 45, Fort Valley State 13

Oct. 8: vs. Miles, 2 p.m.

Oct. 15: at Albany State, 2 p.m.

Oct. 22: at Morehouse, 2 p.m.

Oct. 29: vs. Clark Atlanta, 2 p.m.

Nov. 5: at Allen, 1 p.m.