Alan Dell

Ford can still turn his life, career around

We most likely haven’t heard the last of Mike Ford, which could be good or bad.

Booted off the University of South Florida football team earlier this week, the running back has burned more bridges than Sherman during his march through Georgia.

But Ford has options, is still revered in some places and could be on the football field when the 2010 college season begins.

Manatee High head football coach Joe Kinnan calls him the best high school running back he has ever seen, which in itself should earn the 23-year-old another look.

Bradenton Gladiators president and offensive coordinator Edrick Sweeting is interested in Ford. When he founded the Gladiators, one of his goals was to help talented athletes who didn’t do things quite right off the field. The 6-2, 225-pound Ford certainly fits that mold, and if he played for the Gladiators, he wouldn’t have to attend class, which would alleviate one of his reported problems.

But the best option appears to be North Alabama, an up-and-coming Division II program that Terry Bowden took over last season and guided to an 11-2 record and Gulf South Conference championship.

In 2006, the NCAA instituted a rule that a football player from a I-A school (now called FBS) could not transfer and play at a I-AA school if he had only year of eligibility left. However, he could play at a Division II school.

Since its inception, the rule has significantly improved the talent level at Division II programs and given NFL scouts an opportunity to get a better read on a prospect.

North Alabama under Bowden is a program that has used this rule to its advantage and even taken disenfranchised players who played for his dad at Florida State.

The Bowden family has a reputation for helping human reclamation projects, and it’s an opportunity for a player to remold his character and give scouts another opportunity to evaluate his skills.

Recruiting these kids is easy. They just want to know if their schooling is going to be paid for and if they are going to start; all the wooing they received as high school seniors is unimportant.

There are no frills, no five-star hotels to stay at on road trips, and you might even have to travel by bus. But for a player who is becoming irrelevant, that should be irrelevant.

Another option is entering the NFL Supplemental Draft, but that doesn’t seem very promising given Ford’s short, choppy history with the Bulls despite his 207 yards rushing in his final game.

He could join the Canadian Football League as former Southeast High great Adrian McPherson did or try Arena Football2, which Rod Harper, another former Southeast player, used to earn a Super Bowl paycheck with the New Orleans Saints.

Ford has had more opportunities than a cat with nine lives and still hasn’t shown the propensity to get it right. But the cupboard is almost empty, and that just might turn the light bulb on in his head.

It appears USF head coach Skip Holtz had no say in Ford’s dismissal. Ford broke a rule that followed other rules he ignored and simply used up the goodwill he had left.

During his senior year at Sarasota High in 2004, he ran for 2,836 yards, which was the sixth-best single season mark in the state, behind a few guys who had pretty good NFL careers — Emmitt Smith, Travis Henry and Frank Gore.

Unfortunately, it took a waiver from the NCAA to get him eligible at USF two years after he graduated.

Ford can still resurrect his career if he can find himself. Unfortunately, that search is ongoing.