BEVO BEAT Football

Standing tall: Long thought as too short, senior Poona Ford finishing standout career at Texas

Posted November 23rd, 2017

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Never mistake Poona Ford as aloof. He’s simply quiet and reserved.

Never mistake him for being undersized. NFL scouts may measure him at 5 feet, 11 inches tall, but Ford’s got an 80-inch wingspan.

Never mistake Ford’s role in helping the struggling Longhorns get back on their feet, either. The Texas senior who clogs up the middle is a major reason why this program now has the second-best run defense in the Big 12.

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Most recruiters passed on Ford because he was too quiet and too short for major college football, or so it seemed. Not Charlie Strong. “He saw what they didn’t,” Ford said.

When Strong signed Ford prior to the 2014 season, a lot of Texas watchers had real doubts. But Ford will participate in UT’s senior night ceremonies on Friday before facing Texas Tech and get a well-deserved ovation. Ford’s 45th career game will be his last at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

“It’s been a long and fast ride for me,” Ford said. “I”m just trying to go out the right way and get this train back on the right track.”

And, man, is he anxious for No. 46.

Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford blocked at extra-point attempt against Maryland in the season opener. Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

“I don’t know if anybody really realizes this,” Ford’s high school coach B.J. Payne said. “To some people or some fans, they don’t understand certain aspects of the game. They’ll say, ‘Well, they might only be going to the Texas Bowl or Liberty Bowl.’

“That kid is so ecstatic they’re going to a bowl game,” Payne added. “It’s like a little kid at Christmas. That’s all he’s talked about for five weeks. ‘I have to end my career in a bowl game.’”

Ford is one of 13 seniors who will be honored. The group includes three fifth-year players — linebacker Naashon Hughes, cornerback Antwaun Davis and kicker Mitchell Becker. Those are the only three left from UT’s last winning team in 2013. In fact, Hughes, Davis and Becker have the rare distinction of having played for three head coaches. They were all brought to campus by Mack Brown, played for Strong and now finishing with Tom Herman.

“Probably towards the end of the game I might get a little emotional,” Hughes said, “but at the beginning of the game … My little brother is going to be out there, so I don’t want to let him see me crying.”

Davis said he always remembered what former players Tyrone Swoopes and Jacorey Warrick said: Take it all in, because it will hit you hard afterward.

“I’m not trying to think about the after,” Davis said, “but I’m really looking forward to coming out in this stadium and performing for these fans, my teammates and my family one last time.”

By all indications, that nasty streak of three straight losing seasons will end this year. The Horns still have to finish it off the right way. The Red Raiders (5-6, 2-6) need only one more win to become bowl-eligible and coach Kliff Kingsbury is fighting for his job. It’s believed if Tech finishes 6-6 and makes a bowl, Kingsbury would be safe.

Texas will start freshman Sam Ehlinger at quarterback while Tech counters with Nic Shimonek, who ranks eighth nationally in passing yards per game (313.7).

Strong has a busy Friday planned himself. His 9-1 South Florida squad faces Central Florida in the regular-season finale known as the War on I-4. The winner advances to the American Athletic Conference title game.

Texas defensive back Antwuan Davis (7) celebrates an interception and touchdown against Kansas with defensive back Kris Boyd (2) at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Nov. 11, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Ford probably would’ve followed Strong to Tampa, Fla., if he could have. Strong and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary had been tracking Ford for years as a recruit. Ford committed to Strong while he was the coach at Louisville. When Strong got the Texas job prior to the 2014 season, he dropped the Cardinals for the Longhorns.

Oklahoma wouldn’t even consider Ford. Clemson wouldn’t take him because the Tigers already had a few shorter players in their 2014 recruiting class. Alabama didn’t think he was tall enough, either. But Strong believed in Ford that much and vice versa.

“From my visit at Louisville, how his players talked about him and how they loved him and dedicated to him, that really kind of sold me,” said Ford, who once thought about joining the Marines out of high school.

“That just kind of motivated me to have somebody believe in me, believe that I could make it a big Division I school,” Ford said.

Herman probably had some doubts, as anybody would on first glance. “I wondered, too, when I saw him,” Herman said. “I said, ‘That’s our starting nose guard?’ But he made a believer out of me in spring practice.”

Herman said it spoke volumes about Ford’s standing in the locker room when he was voted team captain. “He’s got two speeds — off and full, and that’s it,” Herman said. “He is a tremendous embodiment of our culture.”

Kaylon Ford Jr. earned the nickname “Poona” in part because his grandmother always called him Pooh Bear, just like the cartoon. In grade school, to toughen things up, it was switched to Poona.

Texas toughened him up, too. As a freshman, he practiced with Malcom Brown, an eventual first-round pick with the Patriots. As a sophomore, Ford worked alongside Hassan Ridgeway, an eventual fourth-round pick with the Colts.

Ford had a career-high 54 tackles last season. He’s currently sitting on 129 career tackles, 18.5 for loss and three sacks, which are difficult for someone anchored in the middle. Payne’s talked with various friends with NFL connections, and thinks Ford could go anywhere from the second to fifth round.

If NFL scouts have any qualms about taking a 5-11 athlete, look at Casey Hampton’s history. The 6-1 former Longhorn became a five-time Pro Bowler and won two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers.

Hopefully, none of them mistake Ford for not being NFL-ready.

“I’ve been hearing that since I was in high school, that I wouldn’t really pan out,” Ford said. “But I was confident in my ability and just did what I knew how to do.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

The post Standing tall: Long thought as too short, senior Poona Ford finishing standout career at Texas appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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