During his time at Utah, junior Nick Ford has played every position on the offensive line.
He’s started one game at left tackle, six at left guard, 13 at right guard, two at right tackle and four at center.
This spring, Ford has become a fixture as the Utes’ starting center.
“Nick has an extremely high football IQ. He does a very good job of communicating up front,” said offensive line coach Jim Harding. “We had a couple of younger players last year and he’s a real calming presence on the sidelines. He came in and played a number of different positions. That’s lent to the ability to know the calls and things like that. He’s done a nice job executing the center-quarterback exchange. I think it’s a natural fit for him.”
Ford is a two-time All-Pac-12 offensive lineman, having earned first-team honors in 2020. While he could have declared early for the NFL draft, he chose to return for another season at Utah.
When the season ended, Ford explored his options and received a draft evaluation. He was told he would likely be a third-round or fourth-round pick in the draft, with a chance to improve his stock to a second-round or third-round selection.
After consulting with coaches, agents and his parents, Ford decided it was in his best interest to play another season of college football.
“Just thinking about it over all, the main thing that every agent and coach said was I could leave now but if I come back, I could leave even better, which was a big factor in my decision as well as knowing how much talent was returning this year and the capability this team to not only win the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 but this team reminds me of 2018-19 when we had everybody and we were able to make that run. I really think we can make that run again. So I just want to go out with another ring.”
Harding was glad to see Ford return to his offensive line.
“He sat down with his parents and decided to come back, which we’re extremely excited about and we think he’ll continue to improve his draft stock as the season plays out,” Harding said.
While Ford has experience playing all over the O-line, he’s happy to be a full-time center.
“There hasn’t been any hesitancy in there. I first came here a long time ago and my biggest thing was being able to be flexible,” he said. “One day at practice, coach Harding asked me if I could snap. I told him, ‘Yeah,’ even though I didn’t really know how to. I just went over there and threw the ball backwards. I wound up being good because the more you do it, the more consistent you are, the better you get.”
Ford embraces his role of being a leader on the team, especially on the offensive line.
“My main mentality is to keep my group going. There’s a lot of talent in the group. It’s definitely going to show. It’s been showing. We’re here to play the entire time, running the ball physically, which we all know we can do, and pass protection, which has gotten a lot better. It’s making sure the entire offensive line is hyped and the entire offensive line hypes the entire team because as we go, the entire team goes.”
The Utes have several young players who received playing time last year and have been improving during spring practices.
“There are a lot of freshmen that played last year who are already making a name for themselves. And there are a lot of new freshmen who are pushing for spots,” Ford said. “Everyone on this team is competing really well. Like coach (Kyle Whittingham) says, ‘We don’t restock. We reload.’ All the freshmen and the young guys and those who are new to the program are making some big jumps and they’re making the competition tough for the coaches.”
Ford said his transition to center has been successful and he likes what he sees from the O-line.
“It’s been smooth. I like it. It’s fun. As for the rest of the offensive line, it’s going really well,” he said. “Our guys are healthy and playing good. It’s going to be a tough decision for coach Harding to make — every single person is making plays. It’s going to pay off big in the future.”