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Ford shines in first collegiate appearance

Running back Mike Ford’s three touchdowns led the Bulls offensive attack. ORACLE PHOTO/SEAN REED

For USF running back Mike Ford, Saturday’s game against Elon was long overdue.

The Sarasota native – who committed to the University of Alabama out of high school in 2005 but couldn’t play for the Crimson Tide because of academics – waited a long time to make his collegiate debut, and took full advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

“I’d like to thank God for letting me see this day and even being here, period,” Ford said. “It feels pretty good being back (on the field). (It was great) to see this whole thing (and to see a) college jersey with my name on the back of it.”

Ford wasn’t the only player looking at the name on the back of his jersey. Elon’s defenders got several glimpses of it as Ford tore through the Phoenix defense Saturday night. On just seven carries, the running back totaled 84 yards, had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving score.

Ford’s 1-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter put the Bulls on the board and showed the versatility of the 6-foot-2-inch, 225-lb. running back who battled the stadium lights to make a great catch in the end zone.

“The play is designed for whatever way it goes – a pass or a run,” Ford said. “It came to my side and I did what I had to do. The light was in my eyes, but I concentrated and caught the ball.”

Ford’s receiving touchdown did a great job of showcasing his abilities in the passing game. But it wasn’t until the second half that the freshman got the chance to display the talent that made him a five-star recruit out of Sarasota High School, where he set a state rushing record by running for 2,836 yards in 2004.

On USF’s first drive of the third quarter, Ford busted an off-tackle run to the outside and sprinted 21 yards down the sideline before diving at the pylon to score the first rushing touchdown of his collegiate career.

Later in the half, the freshman running back showed that he possesses the rare combination of strength and speed that is so coveted at the position. With seven minutes left in the game, Ford was handed the ball on the 50-yard line and ran for a decent gain before taking hits from three Elon defenders. Instead of going down, the freshman broke all three tackles and ran 48 yards down the field before being forced out of bounds on the 2-yard line.

“That’s (being) Ford tough,” Ford said of the bruising run. “The coaches always tell us that you have to beat the safety or the linebackers, and that’s basically what I did. I dropped my shoulder, popped my way through and saw the daylight and had to take it.”

Two plays later, the freshman scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run.

USF head coach Jim Leavitt liked what he saw in Ford’s collegiate debut.

“Mike Ford did a nice job,” Leavitt said. “He ran well and, obviously, we got to look at him.”

Ford’s breakout performance against Elon wasn’t the only exciting part of the game for the running back. It also gave him the chance to play with his cousin – USF receiver Amarri Jackson – for the first time since growing up together in Sarasota.

“It reminds you of high school and (being back in) Little League,” Ford said. “It was a blessing to play with my cousin again.”

Jackson was the only USF player besides Ford to find the end zone against Elon, catching a 24-yard touchdown pass from Grothe in the third quarter. The senior receiver caught four passes for 63 yards against the Phoenix. Despite having a solid game, Jackson was most excited about seeing his cousin back on the football field.

“I’m happy for him most of all,” Jackson said of Ford. “A lot of people didn’t give him the chance after he didn’t reach (Alabama’s) requirements academically. I’m so happy for him and then to see him score his first touchdown, then his second and then his third – it was wonderful.”