EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is being published on PelicanPreps.com with permission from the Leesville Daily Leader.
A year ago at this time, Leesville's Michael Ford wasn't sure he would even carry the ball 100 times, much less rush for 100 yards in any game.
As a sophomore, he was second team tailback behind older brother Justin Ford, a senior who had been starting for two seasons. It didn't take long to make a lasting impression. He rushed for 142 yards and 4 touchdowns against Monroe-Carroll in his first true varsity action, while adding an 88-yard kickoff return for a TD. That began the legacy Ford is building at LHS.
As he prepares to enter his junior season, Ford is becoming a hot commodity for college recruiters keeping an eye on the 2009 class and is being compared on the field to another former Wampus Cat running back prodigy.
While his life is changing and the spotlight shines brighter, he hasn't changed much and is doing the same things he did a year ago at this time.
"Recruiting is just starting to pick up, but I really don't think about it much," Ford said. "I'm just trying to work hard and get stronger and help my team win. I'm in the weightroom every day and just trying to get better and stronger."
Some would say he's already one of the strongest running backs in Louisiana, having dazzled scouts at the Nike Combine in Baton Rouge earlier this year and at a SPARQ Rating event in Alexandria. His measurables compare favorably to those from some of the nation's top recruits. He was timed at 4.56 in the 40 and managed 28 reps at 185 pounds on the bench press, in addition to a 38-inch vertical jump. On the track, he also displayed his speed by routinely running a 10.5 100-meters. He captured his Class 4A regional meet title, but suffered a hip flexor injury that kept him from excelling at the state track meet in May.
Although sidelined with the hip and a hamstring injury, Ford attended the first LSU camp in June and came away wide-eyed at what he discovered on the Baton Rouge campus. Likewise, the LSU coaching staff seemed to have sparked a solid relationship with the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder.
"What stood out for me was the coaches," Ford explained. "They are intense and they really work you. I like that. Coach (Larry) Porter and Coach (Les) Miles talked to me at the camp and told me they want me. I like what I saw at LSU and that's the school I'm thinking about.
"LSU is pretty big in my mind. It's close to home and being a Louisiana boy, you know LSU and the players there and that's huge for me," Ford continued.
Even though he's receiving interest from colleges such as Alabama, Miami, Florida, Ole Miss and UCLA already, LSU seems to have the early lead for his services once he's done at Leesville. The list of colleges showing interest in Ford is sure to grow once his junior season gets under way, especially if he reaches his personal goals.
"My goal for this season is to rush for 2,999 yards. You have to set high goals for yourself to be the best," Ford said. "Of course, making sure my team is successful is first. If I can run for that many yards and my team win, that's perfect."
Even though Ford didn't officially start at running back until the second half of the 2006 season, he made his mark on Class 4A football and alerted defenses of what they can expect the next two years. He rushed for 1,334 yards on 181 carries and scored 18 touchdowns, including four straight 100-yard games to end the season.
After finishing off a bench press workout, during which he ended his routine with a rep at 365 pounds, Ford looked around a weight training room in the Leesville fieldhouse that holds photos of past gridiron greats to wear the black and gold. Just behind his shoulder as he completes chin-ups with a 35-pound weight strapped to his waist is a photo of Eddie Fuller, a former Leesville, LSU and Buffalo Bills running back best known for his catch in the back of the endzone in Tiger Stadium to beat Auburn 7-6 in 1988. Fuller's TD culminated what is known to LSU fans as "The Earthquake Game," after the crowd eruption measured on a seismograph across campus.
Just next to Fuller is a photo of Kevin Mawae, another former Leesville and LSU great who is a center for the Tennessee Titans and a five-time Pro Bowler. It's no coincidence that Ford is surrounded by memories of Leesville players who went on to make a name at LSU. He is very aware of the legacy.
"I can see myself playing at Tiger Stadium some day, definitely," Ford said. "It's a goal of mine this season. I want to be in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night and watch them play. I'm hoping to make at least one game and maybe more."
Even though Fuller made his mark at Leesville, Ford draws comparisons to another running back who followed the same route to college.
Cecil "The Diesel" Collins ran up and down the same field from 1992-95 before taking his considerable football talent to Baton Rouge. After bursting on the scene as a freshman, Collins' off-the-field problems overshadowed his football prowess and he was dismissed from the team. He later played in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins, but is now serving a prison sentence in Florida.
Ford hopes to repeat Collins' football exploits and is well on his way. The comparisons are uncanny. Collins played at 5-10 and 205 pounds, roughly the same size as Ford. He had a breakthrough sophomore season with 1,758 yards and 20 TDs.
"I've watched film on him here and at LSU and I think he ran harder than I do at this point, but I think I'm a little faster than he was," Ford said. "It motivates me to know guys like them played here and went on to LSU and then the NFL. I want to accomplish the same things Cecil did on the football field. Actually, I want to be better than he was. I want to break his records."
In addition to Ford's adjustment to being a highly rated junior on Rivals.com message boards, he had to become accustomed to an entirely new offensive scheme. New Wampus Cat head coach Terence Williams has switched to a spread offense, but made it clear he has a goal of 2,000 yards for Ford.
Spring practice was a feeling out process for the team, but after a few months of digesting the blocking schemes, Ford is ready to show his diversity in the spread.
"I'm more at ease with the offense now than in the spring," Ford said. "I understand it a little better and I know what I'm doing. I think I can be just as successful in any offense. I'm excited about getting involved in the passing game as well. No more getting beat up like last season."
He has been hampered by the hamstring injury, which has kept him out of 7-on-7 matchups.
"We don't want to push Michael and risk doing more damage to his leg," Williams said. "We know what he can do, but at this point he's back to 100 percent. If you saw him work out in the weightroom, you would know."
While programs such as LSU maneuver for recruits in the Class of 2008, there is one Louisiana running back in the Class of 2009 who has certainly built a foundation for the future, which just might include the purple and gold uniform of LSU.
Until that happens, he'll be taking out his hard work on opposing linebackers and defensive backs this fall.