Take one look at Oklahoma freshman running back Keith Ford, and it’s easy to see why OU coaches were so excited he signed in February.
At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Ford is built like a mini-tank. And he runs with such aggression that the most common word used to describe his style has been violent.
But even violent mini-tanks have their doubts. Even top-rated recruits have those moments where they wonder if they’ve made the right decision.
He heard it the entire time. Because of OU’s depth at running back, it was going to be tough for Ford to find the field as a freshman. Actually seeing that depth and seeing Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch put things in perspective.
“At first I was like I know I’m young and there are 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.”
But you never would have known about any doubts if you saw Ford in August. Ford was allowed to speak to the media for the first time this week, but he introduced himself to OU fans all over the world last month during practice.
During the Oklahoma drill, Ford plowed through OU defensive tackle Jordan Philips. The official OU football Twitter account tweeted the video out, and quickly Ford had become a freshman sensation that had everybody excited.
Ford has made his presence known, said OU coach Bob Stoops.
“I’ve seen Keith just run in to the back of a guard and flatten him,” Stoops said. “If you’re in his way, he’s going to run you over whether you’re a defensive lineman or his own guy. Before that video he knocked a couple of our offensive linemen down that were in his way.
“They all know that you better get out of his way if he’s coming.”
And Ford is coming. He said it became clear to him that with the more reps he got during practice, the less likely it was that he was going to redshirt.
Ford hasn’t changed anything about his physicality from his days at Cypress (Texas) Ranch. Ford was more than happy to run into defenders back then, too.
He originally played soccer and basketball and only started playing football as a freshman in high school. The transition hasn’t been too hard and his mindset was the same then as it is now.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to run a guy over to get extra yards, I’m going to do it,” Ford said. “You have to play to get a first down and move the ball.”
Ford got his first chance against ULM. His first carry he knocked down a defender en route to rushing for 20 yards on four carries.
Ford didn’t play against West Virginia. It was one of the first questions asked to Stoops following the victory. Depth at running back is definitely a strength for this year’s team.
So when an opportunity comes around, Ford has to be ready. Williams was out with a one-game suspension because of a violation of team rules so Ford was granted more touches.
He rushed for 46 yards on seven carries, including a 23-yard run and his first career touchdown on a three-yard carry in the fourth quarter.
“It was very exciting,” Ford 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.”
It’s still going to be tough for Ford to see significant playing time. There are going to be days when Clay, Williams or Finch, or all three, are going to have big moments.
But those days are going to be fewer and fewer far between if Ford continues to stay healthy and run with that physical nature. A nature that reminds Stoops of another great freshman running back who played early at OU.
“Maybe when you’re talking about being physical,” said Stoops about Ford being the most physical runner at OU since Adrian Peterson. “I’m not comparing him to A.D., but he’s definitely a powerful guy.”
And a guy now without any doubts.