AUBURN, Ala. — Johnathan Ford didn’t arrive at Auburn as an under-the-radar prospect.
To be precise, he couldn’t have been further from it. The three major recruiting services — Rivals, Scout and 247Sports — rated him as a four-star running back recruit in the Class of 2013. Not long after he donned pads with the Tigers for the first time, however, he moved away from the offense. Due to Jonathan Jones’ freak foot injury during fall camp last season, Ford volunteered his services at cornerback.
And defense is where he stayed, appearing in all 14 games at cornerback, registering five tackles and a pass breakup. Yes, he made the most of his limited time in the backfield — carrying six times for 73 yards and a touchdown in blowout victories against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic — but that’s all they were.
Ford, known to teammates and coaches as “Rudy,” hoped that would change this spring. He came to Auburn as a running back, and that’s what he wanted to play. But on the first day of spring practice, he switched positions once again. Only it wasn’t a return to the backfield.
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Instead, he shifted to safety, where he exited the spring as Jermaine Whitehead’s presumed backup.
As much as the Alabama native may dream of carrying the ball, it doesn’t appear that’s in the cards.
“He’s just such a great kid and a great athlete, it’s pretty safe to say he’s going to be on defense,” running backs coach Tim Horton said. “And hey, we’re all for it. It’s all about whatever he can do to help our team win I would be really surprised if he ever comes back to offense.”
When pressed on the subject, Horton said he couldn’t envision any scenario in which Ford rejoins his group. Still, he didn’t want to rule it out, either.
“Never say never,” he said.
Should it actually happen, it would bolster what’s already a position of strength. Even after seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant depart after this season, the Tigers will still have a trio of rising sophomores on the roster in Peyton Barber, Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway. In addition, two more tailbacks — Jovon Robinson and Kerryon Johnson — are set to come in as part of Auburn’s 2015 class.
If Ford gets his wish to revert to running back, that’s fine with Horton.
He just knows ultimately, it won’t be his decision.
“That’s one of those ‘HCPs’ — Head Coach’s Prerogative,” Horton said, alluding to Gus Malzahn. “So whenever us assistants don’t know (about something), that’s what we’ll say. Just ‘HPC’ it.”