Johnny Ford has made plays all over the field for Miami High on offense and special teams. Between the two units, he’s scored at least two touchdowns in every game his senior year.
But last week, with rival Columbus driving toward a potential game-winning touchdown and threatening to end Miami High’s state title dreams in the Region 4-8A final, the 5-8, 175-pound speedster and touchdown machine asked coach Sedrick Irvin to go in on defense. It was the first time he had ever played it.
“It was a critical time in the game, and he was thinking he needed to do something to help his team win,” Irvin said Thursday as the Stingarees (11-1) prepared to face Delray Beach Atlantic (11-1) on the road in the Class 8A state semifinals Friday night. “He went out there and on his first defensive play at linebacker made a huge hit on their running back that changed the game.”
Ford’s big hit not only knocked Columbus’ sophomore star running back Henry Parrish Jr. out of the game, it ultimately handicapped the Explorers’ playcalling inside the Stings’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, Miami High won the game when Columbus quarterback Anthony Arguelles was stripped of the ball at the Stings’ 1-yard line.
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“The game wasn’t really going our way and I knew how much we needed it, so I just took my frustration out on him,” Ford said of his vicious hit to the ribs on Parrish Jr. “It took a lot of stress off us with him out because we knew they had to throw the ball. We just prepared for the throw and stopped him and we came out with the W.”
Ford hasn’t made every single big play in Miami High’s dream season, but it’s often felt that way.
Not only has he scored a Miami-Dade County-best 25 touchdowns, but he has rolled up 1,603 yards of total offense (998 yards rushing on 124 carries and 605 yards receiving on 19 catches). He also has scored on a pair of kickoff returns and a punt return. Ultimately, Irvin said, Ford is as big a reason as any why the Stingarees are one victory from playing for their first state title since 1965.
“If you break our team down, he’s our LeBron James,” Irvin said. “He’s the go-to-guy. It wasn’t like we drew it up where we design things for him to score two times a game. It’s just how it happens because of his ability and his talent. You put the ball in his hands and he makes things happen.”
Ford, one of eight children who grew up in Coconut Grove, came over to Miami High from Booker T. Washington this summer after Irvin, a former All-American running back at Miami High who played in the NFL and coached at Alabama, Memphis and East Carolina took over as coach returned to coach at his alma mater back in April.
“When I heard [Miami High] had Sedrick Irvin I just wanted to get in contact with him because I knew that he’s a perfect mentor and the perfect running backs coach,” Ford said. “The way I run, the way I read holes and things like that, it’s because of him.”
Ford, who has younger siblings who play for Columbus and South Miami, played for Coral Gables as a junior where he received scholarship offers from schools like FAU, FIU, Marshall, Akron, Central Michigan and East Carolina, where Irvin was a quality control coach through the end of last season.
South Florida, New Mexico, Georgia State and ECU are the front-runners to sign Ford, who took an official visit to ECU on Nov. 18.
Irvin, though, believes Ford, rated the 87th-best running back in the country by 247Sports and a three-star recruit, would be a more highly sought-after recruit if he was bigger. He was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds this summer at the University of Florida.
Ford, who has a 2.7 GPA and scored a 1300 on his SAT, said he compares himself to NFL veteran running back Darren Sproles because he can be a three-way threat: rushing, receiving and returning. His coach sees another comparison in a former Southridge teammate.
“I played the game, been around guys that have been that size and been great players,” Irvin said. “To me, he’s an SEC-type talent. If he was 5-11 he would be headed to Alabama as one of those top backs they always get easily.
“I haven’t had anybody like him. To me, he’s up there along with the Davis brothers at Southridge because of his stature. They ran with more power, but I don’t think they had his explosiveness. Darren [Davis] was more elusive, but this kid here is faster and more explosive.”
The Davis brothers, whom Irvin played with as a sophomore and junior, won a state title back in the early 1990s at Southridge. Irvin believes Ford can lead Miami High to its first in 52 years.
“We haven’t played a perfect game yet – all three phases,” Irvin told his team Thursday. “Let this be the game.”