Brooks: Josh Ford Hopes To Finally Spring Into Fall
BOULDER - Josh Ford is about to wrap up his last set of spring drills and in August will begin his final fall in Colorado football. Scrutinize his career, specifically his spring vs. fall production, and you start thinking this is a kid who has way too much in common with Daylight Savings Time.
Spring forward, fall back.
Ford is in his third spring as a Buffaloes running back; his spring stats say nobody does it better. In the 10 major spring scrimmages in which he's participated, he's rushed 68 times for 667 yards (9.96 yards a carry) with five touchdowns. Those 10 scrimmages include a pair of spring games that show him with 25 carries for 305 yards (12.2 average) and three TDs. Spring game No. 3 is Saturday (10:30 a.m.) at Folsom Field.
But come fall, for whatever reason, Ford falls back. Oh, he's had his autumnal high points - 10 carries, 73 yards in CU's 48-14 loss at Arizona State in 2011 - and on the first day of August camp last summer he was placed on scholarship. The book on Ford begins and ends with effort, has no space for anyone who takes shortcuts, and is a source of inspiration for his teammates.
CU's former coaching staff couldn't ignore any of that, but Ford still played in only eight games and got only 27 carries (127 yards, one TD) in the Buffs' dismal 1-11 2012 season. Undeterred, he checked in for off-season conditioning work under the new staff and steeled himself for another chance to spring forward.
Of course, he did. In last week's third scrimmage, he once again led all rushers with eight carries for 136 yards. It served as reaffirmation for what Ford's grandmother had been telling him since he was old enough to listen.
"My grandma always told me there would be a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "And for me, 'Coach Mac' and these guys are the light . . . it's a blessing to have these coaches come in. They told us (Monday) they didnn++n++n++t want to wait three years to win; they want to win right away. But the big thing is, they care about us as men, as people, and as football players, too. I love it."
"Coach Mac" is Mike MacIntyre; "these guys" are his assistants. Ford is careful not to smudge any of his former coaches because, after all, they rewarded his dedication, his perseverance and his ever-present effort with a scholarship. But Ford took MacIntyre and running backs coach Klayton Adams at their pre-spring word when all the Buffs were told that all positions were open.
That offered Ford a chance, which is all he's ever wanted since walking on at CU three seasons ago.
"I've seen a lot of determination from him, a chip on his shoulder in a good way," said Adams, who also coaches the tight ends. "He's obviously had to fight and scrape and claw for everything he's done as a player here. But the kid is talented; he's a good football player. He's smart, he studies, he works hard. I've been very impressed.
"I think he's going to help this program, but I know this: he doesn't give up, he keeps battling. Some guys would say, to heck with this, I'm going to go do something else. But not Josh; this is really important to him. The thing I like about him is that it's just not important to him that he's successful, it's really important to him that the program is successful. He really cares."
On MacIntyre's first spring "pencil" depth chart, released after spring break, Ford was one of Adams' first four tailbacks. Sophomore Christian Powell and junior Tony Jones were listed as the position's co-leaders, with Ford and sophomore Donta Abron sharing the next spot.
Adams calls the foursome "a group of good football players . . . I think we're in a situation where if we put game plans together correctly we should be able to use a lot of different guys and take advantage of what they do well - unless someone just flat out wins the job."
But even in that scenario, Adams said teams always must be prepared to play more than one back: "Every good team does. You try and spread things out, utilize what guys do well so hopefully one guy is just not getting beat to hell and gets dinged up and is not 100 percent."
Adams' tailback stable is diverse. Powell is 6-0, 240; Jones is 5-7, 190; Ford is 5-9, 205; Abron is 5-10, 190. The difference between Powell and Jones is a noticeable change of pace, but each member of the quartet offers something different.
Powell, said Adams, "doesn't try to shake very many guys in open space; he knows that he's going to have try and make somebody pay when they come tackle him. And he knows they're going to come low at him."
Jones, he added, "has done a good job of making people miss, but I've been impressed with his decision making of, hey, if I've got three guys around me I'm going to try and put my pads down and get through a crease. I think those guys understand who they are what their talents are."
Ford, noted Adams, "has plenty of ability . . . he's one of those guys who is a jack-of-all-trades, pretty good at everything - good speed, quickness, good vision, catches the ball pretty well. He's a little bigger than Tony, not as big as Christian. He might be a little quicker than Christian, not as quick as Tony. But you have confidence when he's in there because he's going to do the right thing. He's going to play very hard, he knows the protections, he's usually very good with his footwork, his reads."
In pass protection, Adams called his backs "solid," but added, "None of them are running and breaking any helmets yet. They'll all get better."
In one of his first meetings with Adams, Ford said they talked about Ford's history at CU and his goal to finally be a regular contributor. CU fans, said Ford, "have just come up to me and told me to keep my head up. I appreciate that; I didn't want fans or anybody else to think I don't work hard. I feel like I've done everything I could (to play regularly).
"I know that I'm a hard worker and that's what keeps me going," Ford continued. "I think everybody on this team knows that, too. (Adams) told me to keep fighting and that he would fight for me as well. I know I'm going to keep fighting. I'm here to play and lead these younger guys. I know adversity will pay off."
A 2009 Mullen High School graduate, Ford began an immediate battle simply to enroll at CU. He attended Barton Community College (Fort Riley, Kan.) for a semester to improve his grades then walked on with the Buffs in the fall of 2010. The Buffs are a big part of his past: an uncle (Howard Ballage) played at CU, as did his coach at Mullen (Dave Logan).
"I know about the tradition and the history here," Ford said. "And these last couple of years have not been CU football."
One of only six seniors on the offensive depth chart, Ford said he believes MacIntyre is counting on him for leadership - "And I embrace that. He gets on me, coach Adams gets on me, but it's out of love and it's a great feeling. You can tell by the way we practice and in meetings and the way they handle things in different situations. They coach us hard, but they give us reasons for what they do. You can see the results they had at San Jose State."
Ford's goals aren't so different from those of the seniors that preceded him. The Buffs haven't been postseason participants since 2007, and Ford wants to change that. He also wants to "leave something I can come back to and be proud of," he said. "This is it - last chance, last shot for me. Unfortunately, some things are what they are and can't be changed. But I'm glad I stuck it out."
Practice Notes: Tuesday's 12th practice "went well, we flew around and got some good things accmoplished," MacIntyre said ... On the QB's in the scrimmage, "I thoujght they played well, Connor Wood was very accurate, made some good reads, Nick Hirschman had a couple very good throws. Shane Dillon is getting bettter, but isn't as comfortable in it as the other guys" ... Jordan Webb returned to practice Tuesday but quickly went down with a knee injury, the severity of which is not yet known ... The format of the spring game will be the picking of two teams with seniors serving as captains on both sides ... the teams will be picked by Thursday's practice so the teams can go through some substitutions and "look better when we hit the field on Saturday."