Brandon Ford came reluctantly to tight end at Clemson.
Yet there he found a home.
“Before it happened, I asked one of my high school coaches if he thought I would be a good tight end,” Ford said this week. “He was like, ‘You’d be a great one.’ ”
Ford wasn’t convinced even after Clemson coaches explained during the middle of his sophomore season that it might be his best route to the field. In the process of stockpiling thoroughbred receivers, they were short on draught horses. Ford, at 6-foot-4, had the size and frame to grow into the position, he just needed a tug.
“It wasn’t the story I thought when I first got here,” said Ford, a versatile high school athlete who played two years of football at Hanahan. “In life, things change, and you’ve just got to adapt to it.”
Teammate Dwayne Allen grabbed the reins. Ford became Allen’s roommate and understudy last year, taking a crash course in tight end.
“I learned a lot from Dwayne,” Ford said.
The calling came during the bye week after the Auburn game two years ago. As a high school receiver, he put up impressive numbers as a senior — 76 catches for 1,706 yards and 22 touchdowns — but tight ends seemed to be losing traction in the shift spread offenses. Ford’s coaches at Hanahan tried to explain it was a matter of layering muscle on his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and learning to block.
“I was like, nah, I don’t want to do it,” he said. “That conversation, it stuck to me.”
Ford said Allen would frequently taunt him about joining them though he, too, was initially skeptical last year of his value in Chad Morris’ scheme at Clemson. When the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end last year launched Allen to an early career in the NFL, it opened a window of opportunity for Ford in his second full season at the position.
“Now that I’m here, I would say I should have made it earlier.” Ford said. “I wasn’t quite ready for it
“I feel good about where I am right now.”
Nearly lost in the fog of angst over the defense was the performance and production by the Clemson offense at Florida State. Specifically Ford, who caught four passes for two touchdowns. Through four games, he is the team’s No. 2 receiver with 13 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
Asked before the season how much Clemson would miss Allen, Morris predicted this was Ford’s time.
“A year from now, you’re going to ask the same question,” Morris said. “I think Brandon Ford has the potential to have a breakout year.”
Morris said Ford had his best game at Florida State. It did not come without further pain. In the opening game of the season, Ford dropped three passes. It was an uncharacteristic lapse for a player lauded frequently for his “ball skills.”
Ford said it might have been a result of his attention to other facets of his game.
“After that Auburn game, I was (ticked) at myself,” he said. “We won the game, sure, but it was easy catches I was dropping. I am never like that.”
Since that weekend, Ford does not waste a minute on the practice field. When he is uninvolved in a drill or scrimmage, Ford catches passes from anybody willing to throw to him, up to 200 a day including 20 before practice and 20 afterward. That level of diligence was critical to getting to this point.
“Catching a football has always been natural,” Ford said. “Coming from wide receiver to tight end was another thing. You’re in the trench hole with those other linemen and there’s nothing pretty about it. There’s all big-boy war down in there, and I took it on.”
Ford said Allen was important to reinforcing his confidence.
“For a first year starter, confidence is a big key,” he said. “Just to know you can block that guy, that you can go out and make plays in front of 80,000 people, just shows you’re ready for it. If you don’t have that confidence, it can be a terrible thing out there.”
And with Allen now with the Indianapolis Colts, they remain in touch through frequent text messages.
“I still have a lot to learn.”