CHARLOTTE – Between playing wide receiver to playing baseball in his youth, safety Charles Godfrey is accustomed to having a ball in his hand.
So far this season, Godfrey is recapturing his youth by repeatedly capturing the football. He has recorded three interceptions through three games to stand as the NFL leader in that category.
"No matter what, I'm getting the ball," Godfrey said. "If the ball is in the air, it's mine. If the receiver has the ball, I'm going to tackle him and it's mine. That's my ball."
Godfrey, a third-year pro out of Iowa, actually has displayed a nose for the ball throughout his pro career.
In 2008, while becoming the first rookie in franchise history to start every game at safety, Godfrey had a hand in four turnovers. Last season, despite missing four games with a broken hand, he increased that number to five.
Over his last eight regular season games dating back to 2009, Godfrey has played a part in seven takeaways, coming up with four interceptions and forcing three fumbles.
Being the current NFL leader in interceptions, however, isn't really registering with Godfrey because of another number: the Panthers' 0-3 record heading into Sunday's game at the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
"Right now, that's not important. Our team's not winning," Godfrey said. "I'm very team-oriented. I want us to win. I want us to do well.
"It's good that I've taken advantage of those opportunities, but that's not something that's high on my list. I'm not worried about that. I'm in here learning and trying to get better so that I can win."
Godfrey is a student of the game, and his list of teachers is an impressive one. In addition to ball-hawking lessons from Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and secondary coach Mike Gillhamer, Godfrey has befriended some of the best safeties in the business.
"I talked to Bob Sanders a little bit, but Ed Reed is one of my main mentors," Godfrey said. "I did a Vince Young camp in Houston (prior to the 2009 season), and I met Ed there. He's a real nice guy. He said he watched me in college and liked my game.
"I'm not afraid to ask for help, so I said, 'Let's exchange numbers.' I called him, and now we talk every week."
Reed, a six-time Pro Bowler with the Baltimore Ravens currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, has 46 interceptions in eight NFL seasons.
"He's one of the best at doing that," Godfrey said. "He critiques me on my game and tells me what I need to do and what I need to work on."
Godfrey grew up on football – though he loved baseball as well – in Baytown, Texas, about 25 miles east of Houston. Godfrey's older brother, El Roberson, played quarterback at Kansas State, and Godfrey picked Iowa.
"I was fortunate enough to have a brother who had gone through the process already, so he told me what I needed to look for," Godfrey said. "One of the main things was to go in and get a feel for the coaches, make sure you have a good coaching staff. He always told me not to get caught up in all the glamour and glitz.
"When I went to Iowa, I felt like Coach (Kirk) Ferentz was a great coach – which he is. If I was to do it all over again, I would go to Iowa again."
Godfrey played primarily at cornerback at Iowa, coming up with 10 takeaways over the course of his college career, but he's been at safety in the NFL since the Panthers picked him in the third round of the 2008 draft.
If Godfrey is to feel good about his individual accomplishments, the Panthers need to come through with a major team accomplishment.
Godfrey believes they can.
"We still have a good team," he said. "If we can just come together collectively and go to war, we'll be all right."