Devin Ford could go elsewhere after seeing the potential of freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaitron Allen during spring practice and preseason camp.
He could have left Pennsylvania, like Noah Cain did in January or Keziah Holmes did last month, but he didn’t. He decided to stay.
“This is Pennsylvania,” Ford said Wednesday. “You can’t get anywhere better than this. It’s a family atmosphere. You walk into the building every day and you can treat every person like your parent or friend.
“I guess that’s what really kept me here, and because of my mindset that my grandmother instilled in me, you finish what you start. I mean one thing.’
Ford expected his college career to play out differently than it has. A former four-star running back prospect, he saw his carries go from 52 in 2019 to 67 in 2020 and then just 14 last season.
Still, he remained loyal to Penn State, his teammates and his coach, which was not lost on any of them in this day and age of the transfer portal.
“Love seeing Devin Ford,” Lions coach James Franklin said immediately after Auburn’s 41-12 win. “Devin Ford is one of my favorites. I shouldn’t have favorites. The way he’s spent his entire career at Penn State, he’s one of our MVPs.
“He’s on special teams now and has a good role in the offense. Really proud of him.”
The 5-11, 191-pound Ford arrived at Pennsylvania in 2019 and shared carries with Jorney Brown, Noah Cain and Ricky Slade as the Lions went 11-2.
However, the 2020 season has been a nightmare for him and the Nittany Lions. Brown was forced out due to health issues and Cain suffered a broken foot in the first series of Indiana’s opener.
Later in the game, Ford miscued a field goal instead of going down at the 5, which would have run the clock out in regulation and sealed the win. Penn State lost in overtime.
Later that season, Ford’s older brother died in Virginia the day the Lions traveled to Michigan to play the Wolverines.
Last year, he saw limited time in the backcourt behind Penn State’s top rusher Keivon Lee and Cain. With the arrival of Singleton and Allen this year, Ford quickly realized that getting regular time would be a challenge for him.
“These guys can do anything,” Ford said. “They bring energy to the team itself. It helped us be more confident and helped us be more capable of doing things we didn’t think we could do.”
Singleton, a former Gov. Mifflin star, has rushed for 334 yards and four touchdowns in the first three games of his career, the best start by any Pennsylvania freshman since 2000. Ford saw potential greatness in him as early as the Lions’ winter workouts and conditioning.
“The first time I knew this dude was going to be a dude, it was in the weight room,” Ford recalled. “When you see him deadlift about 300 (pounds), squat 400, press 300. I was like, ‘This guy has the numbers. He’s going to be a freak.”
“And then through the spring and then into the summer, I mean, he just fell into character. He has his own skill. And we just keep teaching him and learning from him as well.”
There was no trace of envy or jealousy in Ford’s voice. He said the chemistry between the running backs is positive, which may have something to do with how he handled his limited role.
“They’re teaching me to be more aggressive on the run,” Ford said of Singleton and Allen, “they’re teaching me to just use my speed and get out there. They just do things that help me a lot.
“We all love each other. We’ll keep each other on the sidelines and make sure someone is locked up. If someone is not locked up, we will make sure that they are locked up. If he misses the meeting, make sure he gets the notes. It’s exciting to see.”
Ford saw time on offense, mostly on third down. He has seven carries for 37 yards and four catches for 31 yards. He’s also a big part of special teams.
Running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider raved about Ford shortly before Penn State’s season opener at Purdue.
“He’s one of the smartest running backs I’ve ever coached,” Seider said. “He can run a meeting room. If he ever wanted to coach and I was the head coach, I would hire him.
“He can play in any situation. He can be a starter. He can be a special player for us. He can be sub. I trust him. I can put him in the game at any time.”
It’s great to see an athlete like Ford accept his role without moaning and continue to work to improve himself and his team. Younger athletes in any sport should pay attention.
“You have to look at it every day with a positive attitude,” he said, “because you know it can go wrong. But maybe.”