(EDITOR’S NOTE: We saw a preliminary fall roster that had incoming freshman safety Craig Watts wearing #26, but we like to cover all the true freshmen in one fell swoop in this countdown. Plus we need to go back and find the new walk-ons and profile them, too. So we’ll get to Craig eventually.)
#26/4 RB Mike Ford
2007-09, 6’2", 225 lbs.
Career Stats: Mike Ford may be the biggest enigma in USF football history. How good was he, really? What kept him from playing more, or achieving more? Why didn’t he get more touches? Did he end up in the wrong system? Did his own problems hold him back?
Ford carried the ball 331 times for 1,502 yards and 23 touchdowns. After his freshman year, when he scored 12 touchdowns, Ford’s productivity and playing time dropped off significantly. When he did see action, he only seemed to do just enough to stoke USF fans’ beliefs that he should get more carries. That trend continued all the way up to his last game, a 207-yard performance against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl following the 2009 season. So what happened?
- The quarterback was the main ballcarrier by design. A quarterback led USF in rushing yards in all three of Ford’s seasons — Matt Grothe in the first two, and B.J. Daniels in the third. The running game was built off the newfangled zone read and spread handoffs, and didn't have a lot of use for a power back like Ford.
- USF rotated their running backs even more than their receivers. No one ever got enough carries to be the man. Ford had to split touches with Ben Williams, Jamar Taylor, and later Mo Plancher. He was a big enough back to wear on defenders the more he got the ball, but usually he didn’t get to play enough for that to happen.
- Ford had plenty of off-the-field problems. There were often rumors about a lack of conditioning, and he was arrested twice and suspended twice. He seemed to be perpetually in the doghouse and no matter how much talent Ford had, Jim Leavitt couldn’t keep looking the other way without losing control of the program.
After yet another violation of team rules in the spring of 2010, Skip Holtz kicked Ford off the team. That was the start of a rough year for Ford, who soon found himself in more legal trouble. The trail of news about Ford runs out around 2014, when he was playing semipro football for the Sarasota Millionaires.
How He Came To USF: This was complicated, too. Ford played at Sarasota High School, where he rolled up an outlandish 2,836 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior in 2004. He ran for 200+ yards in 11 straight games and was named the Class 5A Player of the Year as the Sailors reached the state quarterfinals.
Mike originally committed to Alabama for the 2005 season, but he didn’t qualify academically and wound up at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for a year. By the time he was ready to come back to Division I, Mike Shula had been fired as Alabama’s coach. Instead of playing for his replacement (some guy named Nick Saban), Ford returned to Florida, signed with USF, and enrolled in January 2007. Saban later made a bogus, very thinly veiled complaint about USF and partial qualifiers, then got beat on homecoming by Louisiana-Monroe.
Recruiting Rankings: Ford was a five-star prospect on Rivals and a four-star on Scout. ESPN scouted him, but did not give him a star rating.
His Best Game: Mike’s best game was easily that International Bowl against Northern Illinois. After getting one (1) carry for 18 yards in the first half, he went for 189 yards in the second half alone, putting the game away with a 24-yard touchdown run. USF won 27-3.
Fun Fact: Ford was a featured player on Delbert Alvarado’s rap tracks. Please enjoy "S.O.U.T.H F.L.O.R.I.D.A."