When he first heard that ESPNU wanted to feature ESPN Top-300 defensive tackle Poona Ford’s college announcement on National Signing Day, Hilton Head (S.C.) head coach B.J. Payne thought there was no way Ford would want to proceed with it. But Ford, much to his coach’s chagrin, agreed.
“I said, ‘Poona, that’s not you,’” Payne said. “‘You’re a quiet kid. That goes against everything that you are about. You know I’m not a fan of that.’ He goes, ‘Coach, when else does our high school have a chance be on the stage on national television and let me give a thank you back to the teachers and the school that made me who I am?’”
Taken aback by this gesture, Payne allowed Ford — who committed to Texas in February — to proceed and watched as the shy student, who usually avoids media attention, soaked it in as a tribute to those around him. It was a genuine motive but not at all surprising for a kid who once received 40 references by his teachers within an hour of them being requested and, during summer practices, ate lunch with Payne’s children because he’s their favorite player.
Ford’s arrival in Austin is a direct result of his bond with head coach Charlie Strong, which is why he originally committed to Louisville in August 2013. Ford visited the Cardinals that summer for a 13-hour visit, during which Strong didn’t leave Ford’s side. It seemed that Strong had broken through to the quiet Ford, who left the visit with Louisville as his top choice.
“I think Strong just has a way of putting guys at ease, almost that father figure where they open up,” said Hilton Head defensive line coach Joey Maddox, who took Ford to visit Louisville. “He just gave that family feel, and that’s one thing Poona’s always been around — his family.”
“He’s an all-around great person, a good motivator, and there’s just something about him that makes me want to play for him,” Ford said about Strong.
When Strong left for Texas, Ford worried that he wouldn’t be asked to follow him, but that concern didn’t last too long. A week after declining the Cardinals, Ford visited Austin, and following trips to Missouri and Purdue, signed with the Longhorns on National Signing Day.
“At the end, I picked the right school that fit me,” Ford stated.
Ford’s decision to sign with Texas gave it a player whom Payne described as “a freak show, [who] just does things that people just shouldn’t be able to do.”
Undersized at 6-feet tall, Ford’s 80-inch wingspan allows him to swat down balls with ease. His 4.8 40 time and 600-pound max squat are a nightmare combination for offensive lines to block.
Ford’s game should fit perfectly into Strong’s defensive scheme. Maddox believes the system he’s played in high school should prepare him for playing in Texas’ defensive line under coach Chris Rumph.
“With the techniques that coach Rumph coaches are a lot of the techniques that I mirror, so it’s not a lot of new stuff,” Maddox said. “The only thing new is going to be the language, some of the jargon may be different from here to there. But, once he gets in line and puts two and two together, the techniques will be the same for him.”
It may be a while before Ford sees the field because of returning upperclassmen, such as senior Desmond Jackson and junior Malcom Brown. But, if he fails to play a significant role early, Payne believes that would be a tribute to the quality of Texas’ depth at defensive tackle.
“If there’s enough guys on Texas or any university in the country to keep that kid off the field his freshman year, I’ll tip my hat to them. He’s that good,” Payne said.
While Ford embraced the media — which he seemed to avoid over the recent years as he rose into an elite Division-1 prospect — on that one day in February, expect the quiet star to return to his business as usual.