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September 18, 2013

Keith Ford gets the call

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After Oklahoma's game against Tulsa, Keith Ford's phone blew up with text messages, phone calls, voicemails.

He was happy to hear from his friends and relatives, but he needed to get to his dorm room and change. His parents wanted to take him out to eat and were waiting on him downstairs.

Ford's phone lit up once more, and he would've ignored it if not for the name shown across the screen. His brother, Herbert White, was calling from Germany, and Ford hadn't spoken to him in some time.

SCOOPHD: KEITH FORD TALKS ABOUT BECOMING A BIGGER OPTION ON OFFENSE

video by Eddie Radosevich

White serves in the United States Army and is going through Rangers school overseas. Ford and he haven't physically seen each other in two years and likely won't see each other for at least another year.

But that hasn't stopped White from watching his little brother play and keeping up with the goings on of the team.

Ford answered the phone and talked with the man who has believed in him since he was a small child, who chides him to stay up on his schoolwork, who freely bestows the wisdom of a 32-year-old man on his teenage brother.

"Besides my dad, he was the biggest role model in my life," Ford said. "He really encouraged me a lot to do my best. Go to college. Be the best that I can be because he knows I can. I just believed it from him."

Ford's mother called him while he was on the phone with White, wanting to know what was taking so long. Ford ignored her calls.

The person he most wanted to share his best day as Sooner with was already on the line.

***

Of course the day Ford announced his presence at Oklahoma, there was no announcement at all. There was only video.

A clip of him plowing through sophomore nose tackle Jordan Phillips quickly went viral after it was posted to Instagram during the Sooners' fall camp.

Depending on your outlook of the football program at OU, you probably took what you saw two ways: Either Ford was exceptionally good, or Phillips was exceptionally bad.

Senior center Gabe Ikard saw something more.

"You get in that drill, and you're a freshman for the first time," Ikard said. "He runs a guy over that's engaged. Whatever, that's fine. But to see the effort and the speed and the power that he showed us on that play, I was impressed. I knew that he could help us."

***

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops took the podium for his weekly press conference with local media on Monday following the Sooners' most recent win against Tulsa.

For half an hour, he expounded on everything from junior quarterback Blake Bell to the targeting rule to Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies lighting up No. 1 Alabama in a loss. But there were only handful of moments when he became visibly animated about the subject he was talking about.

One of those moments came when he spoke about Ford.

Stoops, like most Sooner fans, is quick to acknowledge what a violent ball carrier Ford is and even compared his powerful style to former Sooner Adrian Peterson's, though he did not put Ford on the same level as Peterson. Not yet anyway.

Stoops boasted about knowing, even before video of him running through Phillips was posted, Ford could hit like a Peterbilt hauling a load of bricks.

"I saw Keith just run into the back of guard and flatten him," he said. "If you're in his way, he's gonna knock you down whether it's a D-lineman or his guy. Before that video, he knocked a couple O-linemen down that were in his way in early team periods.

"Every one takes notice. They know you better get out of his way when he's coming."

***

Ford began his athletic career playing soccer and basketball at age 6. He never received an opportunity to play Pee Wee football.

His parents didn't want him to get hurt playing football, so he made soccer his primary athletic pursuit.

"I had speed, and they kind of wanted people to go back and forth," Ford said. "So I was kind of good with the ball and quickness and everything like that. When it came down to defending and everything, I was quick to go down."

He developed into a box-to-box midfielder and planned to play the sport at Cypress Ranch High School in Cypress, Texas, but the soccer season overlapped with basketball season.

Ford might have developed into a Division I basketball prospect had his parents not given him a choice when he expressed a desire to play football again. The Fords allowed their son to grow up.

With no experience playing football in a state where the sport is highly competitive, Ford joined the Mustang football team as prep freshman. Three years later, he was labeled one of the 50 best recruits in the country and had his pick of universities.

Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida State all wanted him, but on Mar. 3, 2012, he chose Oklahoma.

Ford knew about the stable of running backs already on campus when he signed his national letter of intent, and he knew he'd have to work hard to see playing time as a freshman. He did not want to redshirt.

So he put his nose in the Sooners' playbook, his body in the weight room and relied on his family for courage, inspiration and drive.

"At first, I was like I know I'm young and three seniors in front of me," Ford said. "I didn't know what to do. I kind of doubted myself, but my parents were very encouraging. They were like keep working and show them what you can do. It just made me fight and fight."

***

Ford's fight earned him playing time in Oklahoma's 34-0 win against Louisiana-Monroe.

It earned him more playing time in Oklahoma's 16-7 win against West Virginia, and when senior running back Brennan Clay didn't display the vision he'd shown against the Mountaineers, Ford found himself running the ball on important downs for the Sooners against Tulsa.

After carrying the ball 11 times in OU's first two games, he ran the ball seven times for 46 yards against Tulsa. But none of those carries was quite as big as the one that went for a touchdown.

From the 23-yard line, Ford received a handoff from Bell, made one cut and performed his best freight train impression. He broke through four tacklers on the way to the end zone.

"It was very exciting," he said. "A lot of adrenaline just thinking that was my first career touchdown. Just like wow. I'm blessed to even be here and just to step on the field."

His parents were in the stands at Memorial Stadium on that Saturday, and they were elated. For Ford though, it was one of the best moments of his football career and right there on the field he might have thought his day could not be any better.

Then his older brother called.




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