SALT LAKE CITY — Nick Ford made his willingness to do or be whatever the Utah football program needed clear right from the start of his time at Utah.
When the California native arrived at Utah, he not only followed the coach’s advice to redshirt, he made the move from defensive line to offensive line.
A year later, he’s played three positions in four games, and when asked about it, he just shrugs.
“Coach knows what’s best,” he said, adding that it likely makes him more marketable to NFL teams and the aspiring doctor has hopes of playing football professionally before medical school. “Whatever happens, if (head coach Kyle Whittingham) needs to move someone, he’s probably going to look at me.”
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman said switching from defense to offense wasn’t much of a challenge, although it did mean working with a coach who didn’t recruit him in Jim Harding.
“Coach Harding is a good man,” Ford said. “He’s a family man, but he’ll definitely get on your butt. It’s not much of an adjustment.”
What has been more challenging is what’s been asked of the redshirt freshman in the 2018 season.
He played left guard in the first two games and then moved to right tackle against Washington. When Lo Falemaka got hurt, he moved to center for the Washington State game.
“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily hard,” he said of the challenge. “It more confuses your body more than anything. I really understand the offense, wherever I may be, and center is just one extra thing, getting the snap.”
Switching from left guard to right tackle, however, is a bit more challenging as the stance is a bit different, as is the footwork.
“Switching to tackle and it’s a completely different world,” he said. “It’s been good, but my body does get confused sometimes.”
Senior offensive lineman Jackson Barton said what Ford is doing is unique.
“(Three positions) that’s hard,” Barton said. “That’s very unheard of, but it definitely makes him more marketable. …If you can play all three positions, they love that.”
Barton said Ford has developed into a reliable force on the line.
“He’s a very hard worker, very intelligent,” Barton said. “He does a lot of extra work. He’s really come a long way.”
Ford feels good about the play of the offensive line, especially the last two games.
"I think we're doing really good," he said. "The first two games we came out a little shaky, which was unacceptable. But as the season has gone on, seeing UW, we definitely put a beating on their front."
He said earning 322 yards of offense against Washington State was a silver lining in their second Pac-12 loss.
Utah's offensive line is "definitely very physical and dominating. ...The O-line has a lot of aggression and we're just progressing as the season has gone on."
Ford is looking forward to playing his first game in a Utah uniform in his home state. The Utes are taking on No. 14 Stanford in Stanford Stadium and it’s a chance for Ford to face his father’s rival.
Ford’s father, Michael, was a wide receiver for Cal from 1986-89 and was a teammate of Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, who was a quarterback for the Bears.
The science enthusiast who also plays piano and guitar said he and his teammates plan to rally after Saturday’s loss.
“Definitely Saturday, not to dwell on the past, it was a bad situation,” he said of frustration with the penalties called against the Utes. “You win some, you lose some, but you’ve got to keep rolling.” He said the team had a “bad morning” Monday as they watched film and dissected every mistake.
“But as soon as we watched film, we were onto the next game,” he said. “We went to lift and it’s a new week.”
It’s his teammates who help him stay in a positive mindset.
“The boys on this team, that’s what makes this program different from others,” he said. “I know a lot of people say that, but coming out of high school, I had a lot of scholarships to a bunch of different places. The chemistry between the boys here is really something different.”
Ford said he didn’t think about Stanford much as a California kid, but he was a fan of UCLA. In addition to loving science and hoping to go to medical school someday, Ford said one of his brothers had multiple surgeries at UCLA Medical Center.
“I really liked the school, but Utah is the place for me,” he said. “It will be fun to go back to California and get some humidity back in my life.”
• • •
Utah (2-2, 0-2) at No. 14 Stanford (4-1, 2-0)
- Stanford Stadium
- Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: ESPN 700AM