Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football quarterback Andrew Ford’s long football journey leads him to Amherst in 2016

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

It’s the dog days of summer at Massachusetts football training camp and Andrew Ford drops back to pass, scanning the field for an open receiver. The 6-foot-3 lefty rolls out to his left and locks eyes with tight end Adam Breneman, a guy he’s had a long history with on the football field. With defenders flanking him, he releases the ball and hits the big target in stride.

For the third straight season, Ford finds a different logo on the side of his helmet. Many players would crumble under the weight of the journey he has taken in college football, but Ford is persistent. His next stop here in Amherst represents another opportunity to show what he can do on the field, while playing the game he has loved since he was young.

Friday night lights

Growing up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, deep in the heart of lower-central portion of the state, football was king. With a population of less than 8,000 people, the youth of Camp Hill need to find some type of outlet with sports being what a lot of kids turn to in their community.

Football was in Ford’s life from a young age.

“Ever since I can remember I was going to football games with my family, and growing up in central Pennsylvania, it’s a big deal to a lot of people,” Ford said. “We’re in an interesting spot in Pennsylvania that we’re close enough to go to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., so there’s a lot of teams people cheer for and you kind of get thrown into rooting for those teams.”

“Everybody always dreamed about playing under the Friday night lights. Growing up, that was always the goal, starting from youth football all the way up,” he added.

When Ford got to Cedar Cliff High School, his talent really started to shine. After taking over as quarterback his sophomore year, he never looked back – becoming one of the most prolific passers in the school’s history. Ford set records for passing yards (7,103), touchdown passes (82) and completion percentage (66.9) during his tenure with the Colts.

He led the team to a Mid-Pennsylvania Conference title his senior year and his work was recognized on a grand stage as he was named 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Pennsylvania, along with being selected as an Elite 11 quarterback.

For the longest time, Ford wasn’t thinking about the next level of football, but when the recruiting process began for his Cedar Cliff teammate, Breneman, he started to realize that there might be something past the glory of Friday night lights.

“I got exposed to some coaches and got to work out for them,” Ford said. “I heard a lot of positive feedback. It was something that setting that goal and realizing you’re pretty close to achieving it was when I started taking playing at the next level more serious.”

Ford’s many years of hard work on the football field would pay off in a big way, as he was offered a spot on the 2014 Virginia Tech football team, playing under legendary coach Frank Beamer – who ranks 15th all time in wins by a college football coach.

The next level

Ford has always been a player looking for an opportunity to shine, but in his first year in Blacksburg, the opportunities weren’t there on the field.

Competing with four other quarterbacks on the roster, three of which already had at least one year of college football under their belt, Ford was facing an uphill battle to just make it on the field.

Redshirt junior Michael Brewer got the call to be the signal caller for the Hokies that year as he led the team to a 7-6 season.

With Brewer playing in all thirteen games for Virginia Tech, Ford had to be content just watching and getting his reps in during practice.

“It was tough,” Ford said. “Playing three years as a starter in high school then going to a role where you

(Erica McCaulley/ Flickr)

(Erica McCaulley/ Flickr)

weren’t seeing the field was frustrating.”

Despite the setback of not getting playing time his freshman year, Ford found the season to be very helpful for his development.

“It really helped me develop as a quarterback,” he said. “Seeing the play from the sideline really slowed down the game for me, and coach (Scott) Loeffler (offensive coordinator) did a great job of bringing me along. Even though I wasn’t out there on the field, I was getting reps in practice and doing the film studies and really handling what I need to do as if I was the starter.”

Ford thinks the experience with the Hokies really integrated him into how the college game was played.

But after the 2014 season, Ford decided it was time for another change of scenery. The next stop of his football journey would take him back home, as he joined the Lackawanna College football team, a junior college located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Ford still had dreams of making it back to a Football Bowl Subdivision program, so the transfer to Lackawanna was the perfect way to save his eligibility while also showcasing his talents to other programs. If he had decided to transfer to another FBS school, he would have to sit out a year and lose a year of service.

“It was never really something I thought about, going the junior college way,” Ford said. “It was a really good fit and it was a really smart decision. It was another good opportunity to get back on the field and get more tape out there for coaches and go back through the recruiting process.”

When Ford arrived at Lackawanna in early August, he needed to win over the locker room of guys who had already been there, a situation eerily similar to the one he currently faces at UMass.

“I had to come in and really win the team over and learn a whole new offense in a month.” Ford said. “A lot of those things have helped me in my short time here at UMass, where a lot of these guys have been together for a long time.”

Ford would play nine games, throwing for 1,764 yards and 23 touchdowns with the Falcons.

Finding a home in Amherst

The connection in Amherst was clear right off the bat. Ford had a relationship with former Minutemen offensive line coach Shane Waldron, who had recruited him out of college. Waldron got to talking with Ford about UMass and it didn’t take long for him to be sold on making the transfer to play in Amherst.

Head coach Mark Whipple was on board with the move to bring in Ford, as he was looking for more depth at the quarterback position after losing former quarterback Blake Frohnapfel to graduation.

“We were drawn to his experience,” Whipple said. “He had gone to a real good division I program at Virginia Tech and was a really good player in high school. He was a guy that had been under center and played at a higher level. We didn’t want to be in a situation where if Ross (Comis) gets hurt, we’re going with a freshman.”

Ford was excited for the opportunity to play under Whipple.

“He’s had success wherever he’s been with his style of offense,” Ford said. “He brought me in and showed me what I could do with my skill set in this offense.”

Whipple has been happy with the progression he has seen from Ford over his short time with the Minutemen.

“He’s getting to the next step. I’m getting to know him and how he plays,” Whipple said. “We met with him over the summer, but didn’t get to see him play. Now we’re getting the chance to coach him on the finer things and he’s getting it.”

Scott Woodward, who enters his first season as the team’s quarterbacks coach, has been impressed with how Ford has integrated himself within the offense.

“Andrew’s the type of kid who’s always in the office, always asking questions, always watching tape,” Woodward said. “He knows he’s just a little behind everyone else because he just got here, but he picks up everything well. Every day you can see him becoming more comfortable within this offense.”

Woodward believes the fact that Ford has already experienced what it’s like to play for a major division I program will help him greatly as he continues to find his place with UMass.

“You can tell that he has really been coached up in his past about different things and coming from another division I program, you learn a lot,” he said. “A quarterback learns the most during his first year of college. He’s one of the smarter guys out there, so we have no doubt that he will continue to progress every day.”

In the early days of camp, there was battle brewing between Ford and redshirt sophomore Ross Comis for the starting quarterback spot. Comis has since been named the starter by Whipple, but the coach believes there is an advantage to having both on the roster.

“I have confidence that if Ross got nicked, Andrew would go in and be fine and I think the team feels that way too,” Whipple said. “He’s been getting better each day in practice and in the scrimmage we had, so we would have total confidence in him if he was placed in a position where needed to go in for us.”

Ford hasn’t focused too much on the competition with Comis and instead is just focusing on getting better every day.

“Every position has competition this time of year, so we haven’t really talked about it too much,” Ford said. “We just go out there every day trying to be the best we can be. Personally, I’m going to do whatever coach Whipple and his staff asks me to do and help this team win in any way I can.”

UMass has struggled for any form of consistent success since their jump up to FBS play in 2012, going 8-40 over that span and opening the 2016 season with a loss against No. 25 Florida.

Expectations are up in the air for the newly-independent Minutemen, but Ford isn’t worried about what the team has done in the past. All he knows is what he sees every day.

“I’ve been really impressed with how the guys have come together as a team and it’s a really good culture,” Ford said. “We have a group of guys that are hungry to win and hungry to put in the extra hours, so we’re just looking for the opportunity and we’re going to take it one day at a time.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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