Ford finally receiving opportunity at wideout

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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Three years ago, Dontez Ford thought he had everything figured out.

Ford, a prolific football player out of Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, decided to play football at Syracuse University. He planned to study engineering, play wide receiver and relish the time away from home.

It wasn’t long into his first year at Syracuse that things began to change — including both his major and his position. He was no longer enthralled by his prospective field, and the Syracuse coaching staff decided he would fit better as a safety.

“Engineering was no longer my interest, I ended up playing safety there — I didn’t want to do that,” Ford said. “I would’ve rather been a wide receiver — and I would’ve liked to be closer to home.”

Searching for something to cure his dissatisfaction, Ford said he decided to transfer into the business school at Syracuse. Though Ford preferred the change, it didn’t alleviate the rest of the change that Ford felt uncomfortable with, as he later decided to transfer from Syracuse entirely.

Fast forward to 2015, and Ford now looks primed to start for Pitt, his former school’s ACC rival, opposite junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

Ford first became familiar with Pitt during his first time around the recruiting process in high school, as Todd Graham, the head coach at the time, was recruiting him.

As Pitt was closer to home and offering a chance to play receiver, the University was an easy choice the second time, as then-head coach Paul Chryst welcomed Ford with open arms.

“Being able to come back and have Coach Chryst and his staff take me in, it was a blessing,” Ford said.

As a transfer, Ford had to sit out his first year at Pitt, though he did become eligible to play at the end of the 2013 fall semester. Ford took the time to adjust to Pitt and get to know his teammates.

“The hardest part was adjusting to not knowing anybody at Pitt and having to sit out a year,” Ford said.

The transition from safety to wide receiver, though, would not be difficult for Ford.

Ford has always viewed himself as a receiver, though he admits that his time on defense will help him on offense.

“I understand defensive schemes and defensive coverages a little better than some receivers may not, just because I had a chance to learn something about it while I was at Syracuse,” Ford said.

While preparing for the 2014 season, Ford discovered that if he was to thrive, he needed to become more physical.

“I’ve just learned being tough, being physical and for a receiver specifically — being able to get in and out of your breaks — those are the most important things at this level,” Ford said.

Those lessons learned, though, did not yield results on the football field. Ford played minimally last season, catching just three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.

His playing time came during Pitt’s 9th and 11th games, as Ford said he and quarterback Chad Voytik started to gain better chemistry as the season progressed.

“There were a couple times that I just happened to be on the field when the ball was supposed to come to me and that’s where he put it and I made a couple plays, and that helped build trust for him,” Ford said. “He saw that he could put the ball in the air even if there’s a defender by me and I’ll make the play.”

Ford made large strides this spring, and Pitt coaches selected him as an Ed Conway Award winner, an award given to the two most improved players on both offense and defense during spring practices.

“Dontez has made plays consistently throughout the spring,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a release. “He is establishing himself as another playmaker for us at the receiver position.”

The leap, in part, derives from Ford’s ability to apply coaching tips from his previous and current wide receiver coaches.

“A lot of that just came from paying attention to the little details that I learned from Coach [Kevin] Sherman and Coach [Greg] Lewis from the [previous staff] and being able to apply those things and letting it translate on the field,” Ford said.

Chief among those details is staying low in his stance.

“[Sherman] always talks to me a lot about my initial stance and having to stay low and keep my pad level low in and out of breaks,” Ford said.

Ford said Sherman is meticulous and consistent in pointing out mistakes, which has helped him improve.

“He’s making sure that we’re taking notes in the meetings and making sure we learn the game, Ford said. “We butt heads a little bit, but that’s what happens when you have a great coach who isn’t going to let you get away with anything.”

Among a group of receivers who are unproven except for Boyd, Sherman has been hard on Ford and his other receivers with the hope that they’ll rise to the occasion.

“We’re looking for guys who can step up and make plays on a consistent basis,” Sherman said. “[Ford is] a guy we’re counting on.”

Along with his own improvement, Ford said his chemistry with Voytik continues to get better. Ford took a majority of his snaps in spring practices with Voytik, aiding the process. Pushing this chemistry along, too, is Ford and Voytik’s relationship off the field.

“Chad is one of my best friends, and just having that connection with him, it helps a lot,” Ford said. “He trusts me and I trust him.”

As the season creeps closer, Ford hopes that these improvements will help him establish himself as a reliable option. After his lack of results last season, Ford says he has something to prove.

“Right now, obviously people will say Tyler [Boyd] is the only receiver who’s proven himself as a legitimate threat,” Ford said. “We all have a lot that we have to prove.”

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