SALT LAKE CITY — It would be quite a sight if Nick Ford tried playing one of his former high school positions for the Utah football team. Can you imagine a 6-foot-5, 315-pound slot receiver?
The colorful Ford has already played numerous positions in his two seasons for the Utes, including four of the five interior line positions.
“Just tell me and I go play it, it’s that simple,” he says.
For now, as his Utes get ready to play Washington State Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Ford is sticking with the offensive line where he has been a starter for the past two years.
“The best thing you can do is learn every position. I know the blocking scheme for every play, every position, every front. You just get your studying done and then you’re very marketable. It’s a good way to help the team out.” — Nick Ford
The question is where you will find Ford on the offensive line.
Last year, the sophomore from Los Angeles played several games at left guard and one at right tackle and even filled in at center. This season he played right tackle in the first game and moved to right guard for the last three games and has taken reps at center. If the Utes needed help at wide receiver, Ford would be ready and willing. After all, that’s where he played as a high school freshman when he was about half the size he is now.
“He tells me he was 165 pounds as a ninth-grader, but I’m not so sure,” said Ute coach Whittingham with a laugh. “I’d have to see the pictures, because that’s bizarre. He’s undergone a complete metamorphosis.”
Nevertheless, Whittingham is thrilled to have a player as versatile as Ford, who has been especially valuable the past two seasons when the Utes have suffered injuries on the offensive line.
“Nick Ford is our Swiss Army knife,” Whittingham says. “He can play any of the five positions (on the offensive line). He’s got a great football IQ, he’s smart and understands things. He’s got excellent size, good strength and he’s a guy that’s very valuable to us.”
You’d think playing all those positions might get confusing, learning so many different blocking schemes, but it hardly fazes the confident Ford.
“The best thing you can do is learn every position,” he said. “I know the blocking scheme for every play, every position, every front. You just get your studying done and then you’re very marketable. It’s a good way to help the team out.”
Ford was recruited out of Los Angeles by several Pac-12 schools, including Washington, Cal and Colorado, although his hometown schools, USC and UCLA, didn’t show much interest. He was recruited as a defensive lineman, but a couple of weeks in, he was switched to the O-line.
Coming from L.A., he had some adjusting to do once he arrived in Salt Lake.
“It kind of shocked me at first,” he said. “Downtown here is the size of my suburb back home. I came here on a Sunday and didn’t see a single car on the street and I was kind of like, ‘where the heck am I right now.’”
But he quickly adapted and now loves it here, even the weather.
“I love the cold, I can’t wait for it to start snowing again,” he said. “I think I made a smart choice — my family comes out and they love it here and I love it out here, so it’s the best thing for me.”
Ford, with his dyed-blond curly locks, is an engaging young man, who would be happy to talk to a reporter all day if he could, unlike some athletes who can’t wait to move along. He wants to go to medical school someday, one reason he chose to come to Utah. Besides his science classes, he’s pursuing a double major in psychology and political science with a minor in Portuguese.
Yep, it’s because of his heritage, as he is half African American, one-quarter Native American and one-quarter Portuguese.
When asked about his unusual hairstyle, Ford, replied, “What about it — it’s lovely.”
“I like the icy blond,” he said. “I used to have a darker blond, but went to the icy blond last year. It’s fun to be different.”
He promises to have a different look next month, though he won’t say what it is.
“I got a surprise coming in October,” he said. “It’s a shocker. It will be worth it. Sometime in October.”
In the meantime, Ford will just keep playing whatever position his coaches ask him to.
“They all have pros and cons, but wherever coach wants to throw me or wherever I need to be thrown, let’s go do it,” he said. “I just love being on the field hitting people.”
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Washington State (3-1, 0-1) at No. 19 Utah (3-1, 0-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM