Is Jason Ford Ready For Prime-Time Role?

Jason Ford (AP)

The Fighting Illini football team is bracing for the possibility star running back Mikel Leshoure might decide to enter his name in the NFL draft. If he should leave, upcoming senior Jason Ford will be expected to carry the rushing load for the Illini next fall. Whether he shares the rock with Leshoure next year or not, Ford will prepare to have his best season.

Mikel Leshoure broke the all-time Illinois single season rushing record with 1,697 yards in 2010. His 281 carries was nearly three times those of Jason Ford, who carried 99 times for 504 yards and 7 touchdowns. Ford is content with whatever role Illini coaches want for him.

"I'm not worried about playing time. I just want to play my role, whatever I can do. Whenever I get in, I want to take advantage of it."

He remains stoic when asked if he is looking forward to being a starter next year should Leshoure not return.

"I'm just gonna do the same thing, take advantage of the opportunities I get. Mikel is the man. He's shown me some things I want to work on in my game, so I think next year I'll be better from that."

Does the Belleville Althoff grad plan to prepare differently in the off season to become a starter?

"Just trying to do what I always do, get with Lou (Hernandez, strength and conditioning coach) and do different workouts to get a little bit smaller and a little bit faster."

Ford has a stocky build that gains weight easily. Will he work extra hard to keep the excess off?

"Yeah, I always have been a bigger guy. And when I lift, I just gain weight. So I try to do my part and keep on a nutritional regimen, things like that."

Running back coach DeAndre Smith would love to see Ford smaller and quicker, but there is only so much anyone can do with Ford's body type.

"He got down maybe under 240, about the smallest he's been in a long time. But realistically he's probably a 245ish. We'd love to get him about 235. But he's about where he's been.

"We talk about his weight, but he took a long touchdown against Michigan, he outran people there. So he seems to always make plays. Maybe he can't make the long ones like Mikel, but he'll be okay."

Smith says Ford has special talents.

"We feel great about Jason. He sees things differently on any given play than Mikel might see. He's a big, physical kid with tremendous feet for a guy his size. He has a great spin move, probably one of the best spin moves I've ever seen for a big guy. He can catch the ball."

Ford was asked the secret of his spin move.

"In little league and high school, I always worked on it with my coaches. I just got better over the years. The different footwork drills we do help my feet. I never know when I'm gonna do it, it just happens."

Ford is also known for moving the pile. If you don't know who is carrying the ball, and the pile keeps moving downfield, Ford is probably in the middle of it.

"Yeah, I just try to be a power running back. Of course I try to run hard. I feel like I can break tackles. I feel no one can tackle me one on one, so I keep driving my feet, try to drive the pile."

Ford loves running over people, but Smith feels he can improve his game by finding more openings to run through.

"The things we probably need to work on, because his vision is so good and he's so quick to react to things, is to maybe slow him down a little bit. He's a different kind of back. He makes explosive plays just like Mikel does."

Ford is reluctant to talk about himself, preferring to praise his teammates when he makes a good play.

"The o-line did a great job, the receivers. (Jarred) Fayson did a great job blocking on the edge. With Mikel making big runs, when I come in there are things there for me. (Jay) Prosch did an excellent job of opening holes. He can blow up any linebacker who gets in the way. We just read off him, and the holes are always there."

Ford is happy to talk about the future of the Illini offense. He knows an extra year in the system will help everyone.

"I think we'll be pretty good. We have a lot of people coming back; we're just losing a couple. I think others can step in and do their roles.

"I haven't seen the schedule yet, but we feel good coming into next year with everyone we've got coming back. We need to keep working on our offense, keep executing in spring ball and camp, and take it into the season."

Smith speaks for Ford when contemplating an offense with him the lead back.

"He should get more opportunities, and he can feel good about that. He knows what to expect with this offense, so I would think any kid would be excited about that."

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