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Gainesville grad Ford chasing NFL dreams after college setbacks

When eligible, wide receiver had highly productive college career at Valdosta State

POSTED: January 26, 2014 10:15 p.m.

Gerald Ford has been through a lot in his life. From being displaced from his home by Hurricane Katrina, eventually finding a new home in Gainesville, to being ineligible for a pair of football seasons at Valdosta State. Ford has defied the odds more than once.

Now he’s trying to defy the odds again by earning his way onto an NFL roster for 2014.

A slot receiver with the ability to make catches across the middle of a crowded field and one that could throw a key block for a fellow teammate, the former Gainesville High receiver is hard at work trying to prove that, despite missing two of the past three football seasons due to academic

ineligibility, he can be an asset to an NFL team.

While it’s a longshot to hear his name called in May’s NFL Draft, Ford, a 2008 Gainesville graduate, knows his current training and on-field resume at Valdosta State, and a pair of performances in college All-Star games earlier this month could earn him an invite to an NFL training camp this summer.

“If I get a chance, I’m going to make it happen,” Ford said. “I’m just trying to train right now and make sure I get that chance. At the end of the day, I’m the person in control of that.”

If Ford makes it to the NFL, it will be a happy ending to what has been a long road for the 6-foot-3 receiver, who boasted one of the most successful

seasons in Valdosta State history when he led the Blazers to the 2012 Division II national championship.

Growing up in New Orleans, Ford never played organized football. Then, after Katrina ravaged his home, he moved to Houston, Texas, before relocating back to New Orleans. Ford moved to Gainesville with his brother, Calvin, soon after because of struggles with his school work.

Once in Hall County, Calvin encouraged the basketball-playing Ford to go out for the Gainesville football team. It turns out it was a good idea.

Ford earned All-State honors after hauling in 90 passes for 1,308 yards as a Gainesville senior in 2007, but was overlooked by Division I colleges.

“He could do it all, as far as a receiver is concerned,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “He’s got a big body and he probably catches balls as good as any kid that catches balls.”

Instead of landing at a premier Division I program, or even a lower-level FCS program, Ford enrolled at Division II power Valdosta State in 2008, a school with a pair of national championships under its belt and a team known for its air-raid offense.

With the Blazers, Ford became a superstar, on and off the field. During the walk into the stadium at home games, he was usually one of the last to walk the field because he was busy talking with fans and taking pictures. On the field, he built himself into a receiver opposing teams feared, often building their game plans around him.

That was until his struggles in the classroom, the same ones that forced him to leave New Orleans and land at Gainesville High, caught up with him.

Twice.

After catching 65 passes for 856 yards with eight touchdowns between his freshman and sophomore seasons – earning Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 – Ford’s school work cost him the opportunity to play for the Blazers in 2011.

He sat and watched from the bleachers as the Blazers lost their final three games of the season to finish with a 6-4 record and on the outside of the playoffs.

Determined, Ford earned his way back onto the team in 2012. Looking like he was playing to make up for lost time, the redshirt junior finished the championship season with 69 catches for 1,026 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns.

Soon after guiding the Blazers to the national title – along with an offensive line that produced two NFL players – and being named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, Ford was brought back to reality.
Once again, grades were an issue.

Ford failed to pass the required number of credit hours last spring and summer at Valdosta State. He lost his eligibility again, and this time, there was no coming back to the team. His college career was over.

He watched as the Blazers, which were once again without their exuberant and emotional receiving leader, finished with a 6-4 record and no playoff berth. It was hard for Ford to watch.

“We were looking forward to a repeat. I think I speak for everyone in that locker room. It was on our minds to win another championship,” Ford said. “And I feel like I hurt my team by being ineligible.”

Since learning last summer that his college playing career was over, Ford trained under the leadership of his college strength and conditioning coach, Michael Doscher. He also worked on the practice field, away from his teammates, with backup quarterbacks in an attempt to stay sharp and prepare for a potential professional career.

“I would go in every two or three weeks to get the updated version of my workout plan,” Ford said. “Basically, I was doing the same workouts as the redshirt freshmen. (I was) working out five times a week and still hitting the field with backup quarterbacks.”

Ford took the first few steps toward a professional career earlier this year when he hired an agent and relocated to Atlanta to train at the Georgia Training Alliance with fellow NFL hopefuls, including a pair of former teammates at Valdosta State.

Despite not playing last fall, he was invited to play in the Medal of Honor and NFL Players Association college all-star games earlier this month, his first competitive football games in 13 months.

Ford caught three passes for 45 yards between the two games.

“You know how All-Star games go — everybody has to get their chance,” Ford said. “But at the same time, it was my first games in a whole year and I was a little short of wind, but I feel like I did OK.”

One key component of playing in the All-Star games is having the ability to meet coaches and scouts of many NFL teams. Ford said he has already spoken with 23 or 24 teams and said they are well aware of his past.

“They ask me about it but they ask the reasons behind it,” Ford said. “They see I didn’t come in out of shape or anything. I’ve been training, I’ve been staying around my team. They just wonder, is it a character issue or do you not like school?”

One thing that could help Ford in the process of earning an invite to a training camp is the recent success of some of his former college teammates. Just last year, three former Blazers were on NFL rosters, including Ryan Schraeder, who started on the offensive line for the Atlanta Falcons.

“I think those guys were big-time players to come out of Division II and even better coming out of Valdosta (State), a school I’m coming out of,” Ford said. “I think they paved the way and people know our name now. It is a testament to those guys playing on the field.”

For the people who know Ford, there is little doubt that the former Red Elephant known for his charismatic personality — he rarely stops smiling — won’t make it in the NFL. He just needs to get the chance to prove his worth from one of the 32 teams.

“(Tyler) Aurandt was his position coach (at Valdosta State),” Miller said. “Tyler and I talked several times and we would tell Gerald Ford stories.

“They’re all the same: Get him to go to class and that he can play. Tyler would tell me, ‘I think Gerald is going to play in the league one day.’”


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